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The Durban University of Technology (DUT) continues to commend all its essential service workers for their dedication and commitment in providing services to the DUT community during the COVID-19 pandemic. DUT’s Communications team’s Waheeda Peters spoke to Cynthia Gugu Sacolo, Disability Officer at the Disability Rights Unit. 

Q: Please tell me about your role at DUT? 

“I am a Disability Officer at the Disability Rights Unit, which is the office that supports students living with disabilities at DUT. I advocate for the differently abled students that need a voice within the university setting.” 

Q: How long have you been in that role? 

“I have been in this role since the inception of the Disability Rights Unit (DRU) in 2016.” 

Q: In terms of DUT students, especially the differently abled community, how does your role enhance their basic needs and requirements at DUT? 

“I am an advocate for the differently abled students. My role is to knock on closed doors, raise awareness that DUT has this community of differently abled students who needs to be prioritised and be treated equally and fairly like the general community of DUT.” 

Q: Describe yourself in five words? 

I am passionate, kind, caring, honest and hard working.”  

Q: How has it been like working during COVID-19? 

“To be honest, working during COVID-19 has had its own challenges. It has been at times very difficult working remotely, it’s not easy to interact with students on a daily basis as some have difficulty communicating telephonically, and as much as we promote independence to students, some students need that personal and one on one interaction which is no longer there. Working under those conditions is sometimes stressful not only to me but for students too, especially those with psychological disabilities. Many of us enjoy the spaces that we used to meet up in and small chats that we used to have when bumping into each other.”  

Q: How do you deal with the fear of contracting COVID-19 and losing loved one due to the virus? 

“I have to be extra careful when I go out because I stay with an elderly person. I also take safety precautions, sanitise my hands, wear my mask but overall I always have positive thoughts and spend more time with my family and make sure that they are all taken care of. This is a time to be with your family and enjoy time together and that is how I deal with the fear of contracting COVID-19.” 

Q: Your typical day entails? 

“It entails interacting with students and different departments internal and external on a daily basis. Arranging awareness for students and organising self-empowerment programmes. On most days just providing pastoral care and being a listening ear to students and providing them with guidance.”  

Q: What is your thoughts on COVID-19, and its effect on students both able and differently abled? 

“COVID-19 has brought stress and strain because you never know when you can contract it and also infect your loved ones. We are living in fear because you may be gone at any time. The effect for me I would say is the uncertainty of the future and adjusting to the new normal.” 

Q: When not at work, what do you do for fun? 

“I like spending time with my family and going to the gym.” 

Q: What plans are in place to further help the differently abled students at DUT? 

“We are planning to be more visible at DUT as we have completed most of our ground work. We are planning to educate and create awareness to the DUT community about different disabilities and how to handle differently abled students. We are hoping that we can secure funding so that we can be able to buy specialised buses and assistive devices to make lives easier and more memorable for the students.”

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