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 fourth piece is written by Ilze Aaron, a student at Stellenbosch University, who is studying towards a BEd in the Faculty of Education.
I am Ilze Aaron, and I am 22 years old. I come from Paarl. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my aunt noticed that my speech was different and at her suggestion, my mom took me to Tygerberg Hospital to have the necessary hearing tests done. It was confirmed that I had hearing loss. Two days after the news, my mom went back to the doctor and asked him what she could do to help me. He suggested that I wore hearing aids to improve what hearing I had left.
The moment that I put the hearing aids on, I was amazed that I could hear everything around me, the wind blowing and the birds singing. It was a big challenge and a huge adjustment for me, but without my mom, I would have lost all hearing and speech and I am forever grateful to her. She spent hours teaching me how to pronounce words until I got it right. She tried to make my life as 'normal' as possible.
I started my school years at Nederburg Primary School and then attended Labori High School in Paarl. I stayed until Grade 8 where my classes consisted of about 30 learners. The teacher made me sit in the front row in class so that I could try to lipread her, but I could never participate – I could not follow the class.
We then found out about De la Bat School for the Deaf, and in 2012 I moved schools. The new challenge was that I had no knowledge of sign language. I had to take extra classes after school to learn South African Sign Language (SASL) for three months so that I could communicate with my fellow learners. Fortunately, I got the hang of it fairly quickly. Towards the end of my schooling, I even started helping out as interpreter between our teacher and my fellow learners in class, because the teacher could not use SASL fluently enough for them to understand her.
After matric I worked as a teacher's assistant at Dominican Wittebome School for the Deaf where I learned a great deal about being a teacher for deaf children. One day out of the blue, I was contacted by De la Bat School to ask whether I would be interested in applying to study at Stellenbosch University. Initially I was unsure, but after giving it some thought, I realised that I had to grab this opportunity and I sent in my application. I did not tell anyone that I had applied, and for a few months I did not even check my emails thoroughly. Then I found an old unread email from Stellenbosch University congratulating me on being accepted to the BEd 2017 programme! I could not believe what I was reading! I could not wait to tell my family about this new reality waiting for me.
In preparation of becoming a Matie, I had to attend a meeting during which I had to indicate my specific communication needs in order to attend classes. This was a big new world for me, and the adjustment was going to be huge! At this meeting, I was blessed to meet my friend Imran Bodalaji, another deaf student who would also be studying BEd with me, and suddenly I did not feel alone anymore. At this meeting, I also experienced my first encounter with an SASL interpreter and was pleasantly surprised.
Our first day of class was difficult for Imran and me. We got lost all the time and had no clue where to be for classes. We were also unsure of how we would communicate with the other students in our classes. Our thanks go to the Disability Unit and the Language Centre for providing us with SASL interpreters who made it easy for us to bridge the communication divide. The interpreters were there from the start, making sure that we had access to lectures and learning material, and knowing that I was being included made me feel good. Moving from a deaf environment to a world where everyone could hear certainly was a big adjustment.
Some students took the initiative and used their phones or pen and paper to communicate with us while others came up to us after class, asking where they could learn SASL, and I was pleased to tell them that an SASL module was available in the Faculty of Education. They were always surprised to hear my voice when I spoke to them. Imran and I also worked as tutors for the SASL module for a while, and when a stranger greeted me in my own language outside of class, it made me feel so good. If people could not sign yet, they stopped us and asked us how to sign a greeting or something else.
My passion is teaching deaf children so that they can receive an education in their own language from another deaf person and being role model for them. I want to inspire them and make sure that they know they can fulfil their dreams, no matter who or what they are. I decided that I would rise above my circumstances and that no matter what, I would bring about change in my deaf community. I cannot wait to graduate just to prove that deaf people also have dreams and that we can achieve anything that we set our minds to.