Students with special needs focus group feedback

Posted on September 26, 2023

On 11 May 2023, the Quality Assurance and UX Units in the Department of Library Services held a focus group for students with special needs. Students from the faculties of Law, Humanities, Education, and EBIT participated in the focus group. 80% of the participants were blind, 10% had dyslexia and 10% struggled with spinal challenges. 60% of the participants were male and 40% were female. The discussion was held in the Merensky 2 Library, at the Hatfield campus.

The purpose of the session was to outline the various challenges faced by special needs students in accessing library resources and services. The Department of Library Services is dedicated to making all University libraries and spaces a safe and useable place for all students. Our goal is to continuously improve library products and services for various students, especially those with special needs.

Below are some of the insights gained from the focus group and our responses to them:



You said:

Our Response:


Some library elevators lack voiceovers or braille and are noisy.

The Braille buttons in the Merensky 2 Library have been made more accessible for students and staff who use wheelchairs.

The Disability Unit will be addressing the matter of elevators with the facilities team.


The Merensky 2 computers are slow and the software is outdated.

We are teaming up with ITS to maintain and upgrade computers.


Our library website is hard to navigate, with too much content making it tricky to find journals and other resources.

The DLS is working on simplifying the site. Plus, we're planning website navigation and training sessions for students with special needs.


You need digital study materials, but much of it is only in print.

We will team up with the Disability Unit, particularly on time-sensitive requests for scanned materials.


Orthopaedic chairs and standing desks for students with back issues are not available in libraries.

Height-adjustable tables and chairs were introduced in both the Research Commons and the Special Needs Unit of the Merensky 2 Library. More will be added gradually in other libraries.


The current location of the space for students with special needs in the Merensky 2 Library is problematic since it is part of the reserved section, which closes at 21:00.

We’re considering relocating the Merensky 2 special unit to a space with extended hours.

The Disability Unit will also collaborate with ITS to install necessary software on computers across various spaces.


There are no tools for students with dyslexia.

Software is freely available on most computers and smart devices. Students are advised to request basic training from the Disability Unit.


Students with special needs feel left behind during the regular orientation.

The library will introduce tailored orientation sessions exclusively for students with special needs, so everyone can start the year on the right track.


You are not sure how to use the Chat to a Librarian communication channel since it doesn’t have voice functionality.

We also have WhatsApp as one of our communication channels as an alternative, which includes voice note capabilities.

We will also provide training for individuals who prefer using the Chat to a Librarian service.


You were not aware of our information specialists and the services they provide.

We will work with the Disability Unit to raise awareness of information specialists for all your subject-specific information needs.


Access to information and assistance in the institution should be barrier-free for special needs students.

We apologise for any difficulties you encountered when trying to access library services. Our goal is to create an inclusive environment and ensure access to information for all. We are actively working on streamlining our services to enhance your overall experience.

Seeing that this is an institution-wide challenge, we have requested the representation of students with special needs in relevant senate committees to ensure this goal can be achieved.

- Author Julia Goldschmidt

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2023. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 Corona Virus South African Resource Portal

To contact the University during the COVID-19 lockdown, please send an email to [email protected]

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences