CUT at the cutting edge of changing lives

Assistive devices donated to students, community members.

The Central University of Technology (CUT) in collaboration with the Disability Unit and the Product Development Technology Station (PDTS) held a handover function on October 14, 2022 at the Central University of Technology’s hotel school, donating assistive devices to students and members of the community.

The event was attended by the acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal of CUT, Professor Alfred Ngowi, Senior Director of Innovation in Learning and Teaching, Dr Ntsoaki Malebo, PDST Director, Shelly Mona, and the beneficiaries CUT, which is living by its vision that by 2030 it will be the leading African University of Technology shaping the future through innovation, worked together with the inventor of the 3in1 wheelchair, Schalk van der Merwe, and two universities in the United Kingdom, Aston and Loughborough, to improve the wheelchair design and manufacture it on the African continent.

In his welcoming address, Professor Ngowi said the university is supporting the government in its call for the full representation and participation of people with disabilities. “We know that any assistive device is a life-changing experience, as it opens doors to education for learners with disabilities. It also opens doors to employment and social interaction for adults living with a disability.

Without these tools, they are often isolated and confined to their homes and excluded from educational opportunities, as most of our institutions are still grappling with the means of support for people who are differently abled.” Ngowi told the masses gathered that the project is part of the university’s commitment to assist members of the community, including CUT students who are differently abled from vulnerable families. “Denying people access to these life-changing tools is a violation of their constitutional rights,” he added. The university donated four 3in1 wheelchairs, two automatic wheelchairs, and one cranial protector.

The university of technology is committed to investing in the lives of the often marginalised citizens, its aim is to empower differently abled people to participate meaningfully in the growth of the country and its economy. Joys Visagie, the mother of 10-yearold Olebogeng Visagie who received the cranial protector, said she was excited now that her child was going to be protected from injuries. “I thank God for this beautiful day and I’m happy that my child will no longer be hurting and I believe this will protect him way more than before,” stated the emotional mother.

Kesaoleboga Mabuzweni, a student at the institution and the beneficiary of an automatic wheelchair, related her story about what led to her physical disability, saying she was happy that the wheelchair came with more independence. “From the normal wheelchair to an automatic wheelchair screams more independence and I am thankful to the university because I am now flexible compared to before, and I can now easily identify and transfer some of my mobility aids.

“I can do almost eighty percent of the things I could not do in the past year,” she explained. Mabuzweni added that despite the university still having accessibility challenges, she was glad that there were improvements compared to the past. She lauded CUT lecturers for being accommodative and helpful.

Chabeli Sothoane, who hails from Mokwallo, the small town of Vredefort in the Free State, beamed with excitement, saying his life would not be the same as he would now enjoy the perks of being free and independent. “I am happy that I will soon be comfortable in my chair compared to my old one. I will now be able to move and socialise with other people without both ering anyone for help,” the 56-year-old Sothoane rejoiced. According to inventor Van der Merwe, the wheelchair has hand cycle capabilities to help with mobility and reliability in rural areas, and also during travel.

“Through my disability, I noticed that the people are in need, and the needy are more in rural communities. My experience birthed the idea of designing the chair with an adaptable third wheel for off roading as many rural areas have limited paved roads,” outlined Van der Merwe. He added that they made some changes to the wheelchair and that it’s different from the current design. The chair costs a maximum of R80 000 when the parts are imported from overseas.

“We manufacture all of this for only R7 000 and we use bicycle parts. We use these parts because we want to ensure that accessibility is easier to the people in our communities,” Van der Merwe said. The university is now able to mass produce these wheelchairs, with 20 of them already built and 10 more expected to be manufactured soon.

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