SU's Rector and Vice-chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers announced late last year that 2020 will be the university's Year for Persons with Disability. It will culminate in the sixth African Network for Evidence-to- Action in Disability (AfriNEAD) conference, a prestigious international network that will be hosted by SU from the 30 November to 3 December 2020. To honour this the Transformation Office and the Disability Unit, along with AfriNEAD, will publish monthly reflections or articles by persons with disabilities. Our second piece is written by Hillary Lane, the coordinator for AfriNEAD, a disability research evidence project that has been initiated in the Medicine and Health Sciences Faculty of the University of Stellenbosch within the Centre of Rehabilitation Studies.
I have Cerebral Palsy. But I don't let it define me.
My greatest handicap has actually been my handwriting – I used a typewriter throughout my school career, starting off with a manual machine. It's not that I can't write, I need to support my left hand on my right hand to stop it from shaking. My teachers used to say that I had to learn to write because if I didn't, how was I going to sign cheques one day?
This is what prevented me from going to university, as we did not have laptops then. I would have loved to have studied to become an occupational therapist – my teachers thought that I would have made a good librarian – really? The interesting thing is that I have worked most of my life when I was not rearing my two children, and not once have I applied for a job. I was always asked to work: from running a restaurant, being a CEO, managing a second‑hand clothes shop manned by people in wheelchairs, and so many other positions.
More than anything though, I would have loved to have said that I had been at university. Well I can say that I studied at Oxford – that is where I was at boarding school, but when you say that you were at Oxford everyone just assumes you studied at the university.
Now I can say that I am at Stellenbosch University and have been there for seven years. I am the coordinator for AfriNEAD, a project started by the head of the Centre for Disabilities and Rehabilitation Studies, Prof Gubela Mji. This has been the most wonderful time of my life. Little did I know what an amazing journey this would turn out to be when she phoned and asked me to come and see her!