The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) recognised one of South Africa’s foremost scholars with a gold medal at its prestigious Annual Awards Ceremony held in Pretoria on 9 October 2019. ASSAf annually awards up to two ASSAf Science-for-Society Gold Medals for outstanding achievement in scientific thinking to the benefit of society. This year the award was presented to South African professor of psychology at Stellenbosch University, Professor Leslie Swartz.
Professor Leslie Swartz has played a leading role in developing the field of disability studies in South Africa and his path-breaking work on disability assessment processes was fundamental in developments in the field.
Alongside his scholarly contributions, he has a long and sustained track record of meaningful capacity building, of contributing to diversifying the academy, and to producing work which improves the lives of vulnerable and excluded people. Central to Swartz`s approach is the development of research capacity in people previously excluded from the academy and to making principles of scientific engagement accessible to the broader community.
As part of his work on care, illness and disablement issues, Swartz has provided free consultation services and he is also supervising the first ever study of mental health issues amongst deaf children conducted on the African continent. Swartz has a keen interest in access to services for people who are excluded in various ways. In this regard, he heads a research team which has worked with the Western Cape Government to train, support and trial the use of language interpreters in a number of health care settings in the Western Cape.
He is sought after as an academic mentor and contributes regularly to training of more junior researchers at a range of South African universities. To date, he has supervised to successful conclusion over forty PhD`s, many of them black, women, and disabled South Africans.