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Knack for technology benefits those with disabilities

- Wits University

Adaptive Technologist and Wits Covid-19 Hero, Andrew Sam, provides specialised support to students and staff with special needs.

From a young age, Andrew Sam had a strong interest in computers and technology. As a child, he spent hours dismantling and assembling an assortment of electronics just to understand their function and design. This curiosity continued to university where he accumulated several IT certificates whilst studying for a BSc degree at Wits.

An employment opportunity as a student assistant in the Disability Rights Unit (DRU), to provide advanced IT support to students with special needs, further exposed Sam to the power of technology.

“It was here at the DRU that my passion for assistive technology was ignited, where every day I could see the vital role these specialist technologies played in providing an enabling platform for persons with disabilities,” says Sam.

Wts Covid-19 Hero and Adaptive Technologist Andrew Sam

Over the years he has trained many students with various disabilities including blind, visually impaired students and those with hearing and learning disabilities, in the use of assistive technology.

In 2020, Sam was key in preparing and supporting these students remotely, a massive task given that the students had been on campus for just a month and were yet to come to grips with the learning systems provided by the University. Read more about how Sam worked with communities to help students traverse the online platform.

Sam was nominated as a Wits Covid-19 Hero, joining the ranks of staff and students recognised for going the extra mile in 2020 to help the University, its surrounding communities and society at large at the onset of the pandemic.

Sam says that nomination was a wonderful surprise.  “This was really unexpected and out of the blue! I am naturally incredibly proud to be named a Wits Covid-19 Hero and it is a great feeling when your hard work and efforts are recognised,” he says.

The Adaptive Technologist has worked at Wits for 18 years.

His commitment is driven by ensuring that the DRU was able to continue providing support to students and staff with disabilities. 

“The pandemic forced us to rethink and reimagine the way we work, which ultimately aided in improving our service. I’m happy to say that all the hard work and long hours was worth it!”

Sam regards his job as an opportunity to build a more inclusive society. “I am privileged to be in the position where I can witness first hand just how effective assistive technology can be, and what a major impact it can have on the lives of persons with disabilities. It is incredibly fulfilling to see students who may not have been given a chance because of their disability, who with the correct support and encouragement, grow into the leaders we want them to become.”

The Wits DRU is a model unit in South Africa and provides leadership in the higher education sector.  The pioneer status of the Unit propels Sam to constantly search and find solutions to support learning and teaching.

He achieves this through “lots of research and reading. One aspect of my job involves looking for new emerging technologies and to see how they may work for us.”

While his job is generally demanding and the pandemic brought added pressure, Sam says that he tried to squeeze in time for his hobbies, a good TV series or movie here and there, to relax.

His colleagues are an important source of support and help to keep his engine running, he says.

“I am a part of an incredible DRU team who all play their part in ensuring that students and staff with disabilities are supported. I would really like to acknowledge them for all their hard work, dedication and support – there is no ‘i’ in ‘team’”, he says.

About Wits Covid-19 Heroes

The Wits Heroes Series celebrates staff and students who went beyond the call of duty at the onset of Covid-19 in 2020. Wits Heroes were nominated by members of the Wits community. Discover other Heroes.