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 third piece is written by Luigia Nicholas who is currently studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma in Tax Law; she is also the SRC's Special Needs Manager.
Growing up as the oldest of three children, I have always felt the pressure of being the most responsible child and trying to set a good example for my younger siblings. I have struggled all my life with poor eyesight. As a youngling, the teachers would tell my parents that I had lazy eyes or needed to use glasses, but these would never help. I had to struggle to get through my primary school career by asking the teachers and my classmates to assist me, among other thing by copying work out of their textbooks, as I could not see the board clearly. This left me feeling useless, as if there was something wrong with me.
I was diagnosed with my first eyesight condition, S Margaret's disease, only in Grade 8, at the age of 14. At the beginning of my high school career in 2014, I was diagnosed with a second eye condition, namely uveitis. Having discovering what was wrong with me, I could work around how to make my life easier and what to do to help my schooling. Because I went to a mainstream private school and not Pioneer School, I had to help the school to adjust to my needs. I taught them how to assist me with my eyesight condition so that I could do the best in my schooling. During this time, I realised I had a talent for educating people on how to assist those that are different.
I had lived 12 years of schooling and 3 years of university without most people knowing that I had an eyesight condition and being a 'normal' student, but when I received Haiku (my guide dog) everything changed. People's attitudes towards me changed and everyday activities became harder to do. The first time I took Haiku shopping with me was a completely new situation. It felt as if the entire store was staring at me, which made me feel insecure and discouraged me from going to the store again. I was forced to make a decision – either feel sorry for myself and accept life as it is, or fight to make a difference.
After coming to university, I began interacting with other differently‑abled students. That gave me a sense of belonging and I soon realised that I was not the only person struggling with issues of acceptance into a society that did not adapt to my needs. Interactions through society work and social, as well as university work have shown me that students need a space to feel heard. Being involved in a disability awareness in society has demonstrated that students need a space where they can vent and engage with others in their everyday life struggles. This needs to be a space where they can speak to someone who shares their experience and can give advice and guidance on how to deal with certain conflicts.
However, students do not want to be recognised only for their disabilities, but also for their other abilities. I decided to change my narrative of being recognised only by my disability by getting involved with societies that are not focused on disability awareness. I joined societies that reflect my other passions. I also have an interest in film, church societies, arts and crafts, and board games.
I have also worked to better my leadership skills through participation in short courses and leadership positions. This helped me grow as a person and become more comfortable with my other interests. I stepped outside my comfort zone and in doing so, indirectly started educating others and making them more aware of accessibility issues they might have and how they could create a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities.