Chief Guest and President of Fiji Disabled Persons Federation, Mr Joshko Wakaniyasi, delivers his address during the opening.
The University of the South Pacific (USP) is leading by example on disability inclusiveness through the launching of its newly built Disability Resource Centre (DRC) common room on 27 October 2017.
The common room is a large living space that gives students with special needs a study environment as well as a platform for socialising. It consists of a living area, a kitchen and washroom facilities.
In his welcome remarks, Professor Rajesh Chandra, USP Vice-Chancellor and President, said that the establishment of the Disability Resource Centre in 2013 was one of the initiatives of the Strategic Plan (2013-2018) and was designed to support students with disabilities who wish to study at USP.
Professor Chandra added that going beyond this initiative, the University also developed its Disability Inclusiveness Policy to guide the implementation of disability-friendly services as well as the provision of reasonable teaching and learning facilities and environment.
The University’s current DRC office comprises a separate computer lab that is outfitted with seven (7) computers, three (3) of which have world class screen readers for students with visual challenges.
Five (5) single rooms have been allocated to on-campus students with disabilities in A block, two (2) of which are wheelchair accessible and 1 married quarters flat at Catalina Drive which is also wheelchair accessible.
“I am pleased to say that since the establishment of the DRC in 2013, a total of 96 students have had access to our services and 17 have graduated of which 11 are currently employed, four (4) are continuing with their studies and two (2) have returned to their home countries,” Professor Chandra said.
Professor Chandra said that the upgrading of the physical environment has been progressive to include lifts and ramps where needed, adding that the current planned renovation to the University library will also be disability friendly.
As part of its broader initiatives, the University launched its first ever Regional Disability Scholarship this year.
The Vice-Chancellor and President also acknowledged the School of Engineering and Physics (SEP) that has taken on the mission of inclusive development and focused its research and development on assisting persons with disabilities.
One of the two patents obtained by the University is in support of the visually impaired, which is the eye-cane.
The School has also developed a Braille Eye-Slate, which is a low cost solution to teach Braille language to visually impaired children, and has distributed to special schools in a number of USP’s member countries.
This, Professor Chandra highlighted, indicates that the support for inclusiveness and especially support for persons with disabilities is very much embedded into the thinking of the University and its staff.
President of the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation and Chief Guest Mr Joshko Wakaniyasi opens the DRC Common Room while Professor Rajesh Chandra, USP Vice-Chancellor and President, Mr Corrado Pampaloni Deputy Head of Delegation and Professor Richard Coll, Deputy Vice Chancellor Learning Teaching and Student Services looks on.
USP is also the first University in the region to establish a Disability Resource Centre in the tertiary sector and provide such relevant services to persons with disabilities.
Mr Joshko Wakaniyasi, Chief Guest and President of the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation, commended the University for accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities.
He emphasised that the USP has always handled the pathway to progressive realisation, so that students with disabilities could fulfil their human rights, dignity and respect.
He reiterated the DRC and its common room is an investment that will go a long way, which will ensure that persons with disabilities have an opportunity to make a good future.
“Thank you USP for continuing to ensure that your policies are not only for the shelves. It is something you have put into practise,” Mr Wakaniyasi said.
Talking about the common room, he pointed out that he liked the word ‘common’ because it brings everybody together.
“It is a support mechanism that is built within the centre and is an investment on real lives which is the only way we can bridge the gap,” he added.
While congratulating USP for being the first University to have a DRC, Mr Wakaniyasi said that as a Pacific University, it is imperative that they support other Pacific Island Countries to benefit from such initiatives.
He urged the donors to fund such support mechanisms and projects so that similar facilities could be established across the region.
He also thanked the efforts of the student buddies and acknowledged them for their time and contribution towards students with disabilities at USP, adding that these students have been speaking highly of the buddies.
Other invited guests at the opening included Deputy Head of Delegation Mr Corrado Pampaloni; Ms Elizabeth Jitoko Senior Programme Manager, Regional Education at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT); Mr Sitiveni Yanuyanutawa, Executive Director of Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons; Members of the University’s Senior Management Team (SMT); and staff and students of USP.
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