17 October 2022
To decide to study through Unisa could seem like a daunting prospect. If you want to do a diploma course, you are looking at a full-time study of at least 1 to 3 years. If you dare to do a degree, you have to ready yourself for at least 4 to 7 years. This will of course depend on how many modules you take per semester, whether you study full-time or part-time if you have family, work, or other commitments. If you are employed, an average of 2 to 4 modules per semester is realistic. If you are doing it on a full-time basis, 4 to 5 modules per semester are doable.
Unisa has a variety of careers that will be accessible for visually impaired students, including law, teaching, social work, office administration, human resources, theology, linguistics, political sciences, and media studies.
Before you decide on a qualification, your mindset should be in the right place. You have to know that there will always be challenges to face. You have to meet certain deadlines for assignments, material may not always be accessible and you may have difficulty getting hold of relevant staff and lecturers. However, for every challenge, there are solutions, you just need to think out of the box, and learn the necessary skills to do things yourself.
If you know other students who studied through Unisa, build a network of support with them. Ask them how they did things, and how they overcame their challenges.
The first thing you should do is apply for your qualification during the application period. If you want to start in January 2023, the application period is usually around August or September 2022. Make sure all your documents, such as ID, Grade 12 certificate, and any other qualifications are sent in before the closing date. If you get accepted, you need to register as early as possible during January. You need to indicate that you are a student with special needs, and make sure you contact the disability unit as soon as possible. Fill in the necessary forms which will permit you extra time during examinations, as well as to receive handbooks in electronic formats. Mrs. Vukati Ndlovu assists with registrations, and Mr. Pintius Nkuna helps with the procurement of textbooks in electronic format.
Next, you need to familiarise yourself with the MyUnisa website, as this will be your platform for everything, from submitting assignments, checking your examination results, changing any personal information, etc. You need to sign in to your MyLife email address and create a MyUnisa password. If you have a smartphone, immediately download MS
Outlook, and set your MyUnisa email up on your phone, so you can always be updated regarding any communication your lecturers may send. This will be the only way you can communicate with the university. They do not accept communication from students via external email addresses, it has to be from your MyLife email.
Remember that each Unisa student has access to free Office 365, therefore, you can access your email on your laptop or computer too, as well as do your written assignments in MS Word 365. Set it up on your computer as soon as you can.
Furthermore, join all the related Unisa Facebook groups. There are general and support groups, as well as groups related to each qualification, and sometimes even some of the modules have their groups. There, you can contact students who do the same qualification as you, and their assistance and advice are crucial. Sometimes you may feel utterly alone on your Unisa journey, especially if you are a student with special needs. By joining support groups, you will feel more part of the Unisa family, and you will notice that all students have different challenges to overcome.
Also, join as many WhatsApp groups as you can regarding your modules. Students post valuable information there, and they help each other daily.
Telegram is another option, but it is very inaccessible for blind students. However, if you have sighted assistance, someone may help you to download previous question papers and tutorial letters from this platform.
Once registered, you should read Tutorial letter 101 for each module. This is the basis of what you will need. The outline of the course is discussed, as well as which prescribed books you will need. Procuring prescribed books could sometimes be a problem, that is why you should contact Mr. Pintius Nkuna as soon as you can. Otherwise, you can buy some of the books from websites such as Takealot or Loot.
If you are very fortunate, you could sometimes contact the authors, and they may in some cases permit you. However, beware that authors and publishers are very aware of students distributing illegal copies. You will need to fill in a statement that you will not distribute these books, and you will have to send proof of your eye condition. Remember that this is a special privilege that the publishers and authors grant special needs students. Please kindly keep to this agreement, to keep the road open to students who may come after you.
Some of the tutorial letters and study guides may not be accessible with all the screen reading software. Make sure that you have an app such as VoiceDream Reader on your phone, I found it the most useful app, it is even more accessible for different formats of books, even more than Jaws or NVDA.
Sometimes, you may need to convert some PDF documents to Word. There are applications available, such as File Converter, or E-Book converter, which work well with most materials. If you still encounter problems with inaccessible materials, you can contact Mr. Netshituni or Mr. Moodley at Unisa’s disability unit.
The Unisa website is quite accessible with a smartphone and computer. However, the library services are difficult to navigate. For that, they have staff available to assist with library services, but it could be a long process. If you need prescribed articles for assignments, students are quite willing to share these.
Online examinations were quite a revolution for everybody. The examination website is accessible, but you need to do it on a computer, not a cellphone. Special needs students are exempted from using the Invigilator application because it is quite inaccessible for visually impaired students. This is an application that tracks your sound and movement during the writing of exams, so they can make sure you are not perhaps cheating. Sometimes the app would ask you to take a selfie or a photograph of your ID. This is of course impossible for visually impaired students, especially if you do not have sighted assistance around at the time of the examinations.
If you however can organise sighted help on your examination days, it could be beneficial, especially if you want to make sure that everything is submitted on time. Your sighted help could for instance read you the question paper and you could just write your exam.
The next thing to remember is to make sure of all your due dates of submission of assignments, as well as examination dates. Make a list, so you can know exactly when which assignment has to be submitted. Always try and submit before the due date, as the website may be congested or even down towards the due dates.
Remember that some of your modules may contain visual material, such as statistical formulas, graphs, and figures. You may additionally have to make use of visual materials to do your assignments, such as making a poster or inserting photographs or drawings. For these, you will need sighted assistance. Make sure you understand your theory well, so you can give your sighted helper clear instructions on what to do for your assignment. You still need to do the work, your assistant may just insert the visual material which you cannot. Sometimes you may even contact people in your community. I had to contact our local police office for crime statistics in our area, and I had to find out about non-profit organisations in my area.
Very important, to build an excellent rapport with the staff at the disability unit, as well as other Unisa staff and lecturers. If you encounter problems, respectfully explain to the relevant staff, and always show appreciation and goodwill.
The road to qualification may not always be moonshine and roses, and sometimes you may need to stay awake until 4 AM to complete an assignment on time. You may have to say no to social engagements or ask your family to give you some study time. Sacrifice is inevitable. But, when you stand on stage one day at your graduation ceremony, wearing your gown and cap, and you receive your certificate, you will know that all the hard work was worth it.
So, go and grab your future. It is possible if you persevere.