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AN INTRODUCTION

It is a silent world, a world devoid of sound. It is an abyss of unknown tunes, of unheard melodies, of nameless songs. The world I belong to is a world where I wake up not to the shrill of an alarm clock, where I walk at the edge of the sea, but cannot hear the waves crashing upon the shore, where I cannot hear dogs barking or the birds flutter above me. I cannot hear the voice of my mother, nor can I hear my own voice. It is silent.

It is a challenge in itself to learn to speak when you have no knowledge of how a word even sounds like, and also to be able to articulate in a fashion that another person can comprehend takes many years and a lot of determination along with a strong desire to succeed. I think I have a lot to be grateful for in the sense that my parents had not opted for an easier path but rather one that would make me self-confident and self-sufficient, two great qualities required in this independent age. My disability, although a huge challenge, was overcome through four things, my parents thirst to equip their child with all the basic communication skills to enhance the quality of my life, the constant support of a very close knit group of family members, my everlasting desire to achieve academically and professionally and fourthly and most importantly through divine intervention.

In terms of medical science, it was a given that with the severity of my hearing impairment, there would be no doubt that I would never be able to speak, so I could almost say that what I have done has defied medical science in the greater scheme of things. Doctors recommended that due to the fact I would not be able to pick up any form of language or speech, it would be wise to send me to a school for the hearing impaired and learn sign language as a form of communication.

I made very solid progress, my first spoken word was “flower” and the second spoken word was “aja” meaning grandfather in Hindi.  My parents had kept a little black book to record all the words that I pronounced, but soon the words were too many and the pages too few. I made remarkable progress academically as well, besides the rapid advancement of my speech. I had a great love for learning and a greater passion for reading, of which I am an avid reader and this perhaps contributed to my learning progress in a beneficial manner.

THE ACADEMIC JOURNEY

I went to a number of schools, started off at the Durban School for Hearing Impaired at the age of 4, where I did not fit into the environment, and after struggling there I was placed into the Holy Family Convent, which was also a bit of a challenge, as it was a single deaf child in a hearing classroom.

I then moved on to Stellawood Primary School then, now renamed as the Durban Primary School which had a dedicated unit in the mainstream school, called the PHU (Partially Hearing Unit). This school was to set the foundation for most of my life’s achievements, as the teachers, Mrs. L. Diamond & Mrs. P. Jackson were absolutely dedicated to making us self-sufficient, intelligent & speaking individuals. We learnt how to speak and read on the same level as learning the normal syllabi. It was imperative that we read, because our teachers believed that reading aids speaking. I had the best years of my life in primary school, and owe my great love to succeed and persevere to my teachers in primary school.  My primary school years set the foundation for a lot of the success in my later years.

I then went on to matriculate at Crawford College, writing normal matric examinations. I matriculated with 5 distinctions, doing 7 subjects all on the Higher Grade. I also received distinctions in both my languages, never mind the fact that I was told that I would not be able to grasp language.

I then enrolled to do my bachelor of commerce in accounting at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal with a Deloitte bursary. I graduated within 3 years, without failing a single subject, and became the first deaf graduate in the history of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. I then proceeded to do my honors at UNISA and graduated within one year with my second degree, honors bachelor in accounting science in 2008. I also received the Golden Key Award for academic excellence whilst in my first year of studies

I then went on to complete my articles for 3 years at Deloitte Durban, on my road to becoming a fully qualified chartered accountant, and passed both my qualifying board examinations on my first attempt, and then became the first deaf chartered accountant in South Africa.

THE TOOLS

My primary school, I cannot stress enough and probably won’t be able to stress enough, is probably responsible for the great success that I have attained today.  When I stand up at a national level to deliver speeches, or when I stand up in a boardroom to discuss business strategies and operational efficiencies, the simple teachings and principles that I learnt at school under the competent hands of my teacher (I had the same teacher from Grade 1 – Grade 7, Mrs Diamond) serve to guide me forth and this humbles me.

A lot of my dear friends that I’ve been fortunate to spend many memorable hours with here at the PHU, and who have been moulded to outstanding men and women today, will remember, the emphasis placed on a holistic education, blending reading, oral communication and life skills into creating self-sufficient, independent individuals who have accepted their disability and have risen above it more importantly.

I have a huge collection of photos from my primary school days, the camps we had been on, the nativity plays that we painstakingly put together, the multitude of crumpets that we made in order to raise funds, the warmth of our classroom, the birthdays we celebrated together…as I am in my adulthood, these memories seek to inspire me and allow me to believe in the goodness of humanity. I actually believe the fact that we were sent on camps sought to teach us a great gift of independence and resilience. Sent into the outer world, we were forced to adapt and more importantly learn to live with our disability.

For the great vision that the PHU had and the progressive thoughts that they had in the bygone days,  serves as an example of what exemplary education can achieve and therefore how it can sustain a nation by means of productive learners who can and are able to make a positive difference in our beautiful country, South Africa.  Stellawood has been one of the schools that had embraced diviersity, transcended the barriers of disability and the whole concept of a rainbow nation quite remarkably.

This school has taught me to persevere, to awake and arise with courage and conviction, to be determined and steadfast in achieving my dreams.

THE LIFE

Inclusiveness has been the greatest barrier that I have encountered in my everyday life.

It was hard in the beginning to accept that I am different from my family members in the sense that I have a profound and severe hearing disability, but once I came to the acceptance of my disability and the determination to make it my strength rather than my weakness, it was no obstacle for me.

However, there were a few challenges I faced in my life, notably the fact that it is a given that you pick up one third of a conversation and lose the other two thirds, therefore in an academic situation my learning was a bit of a challenge, but I always rose up to it by working twice as hard as I normally would and making the sacrifice in the conquest of academic excellence. I also ensured that I studied hard at school, and at university and even when I wrote my professional qualifying examinations. I used to sit in the front of the class or in the front of a lecture room, and still have the habit even in a meeting to sit in the front.

There were instances when I was mocked, or made fun of, because I sounded different, but then I always rose above that, and strived to see goodness in everyone and everything. There were times when I was discriminated against, but that along with being painful gave me the great strength to get up and face my battle head on. There was this constant human rights battle which my father spearheaded for the vast majority of my life, the right to dignity, the right to education and the right to be free and heard.

I also had some sacrifices that I had to make, for instance in the pursuit of obtaining language skills and developing the ability to speak I had a very limited childhood, in the sense that whilst other children played on the swings and with their toys, I was constantly learning. We were fortunate that we had the right guidance from the Carel du Toit centre in Cape Town, where we went as often as we could to the parental guidance programmes where they equipped us with learning techniques to aid the facilitation of speech. Professor Carel du Toit had no methodology for his practice other than he believed that if you talk to a deaf child, the deaf child will talk back to you!

I have client-facing roles which require extensive interpersonal skills. My clients have been more than understanding, most of them actually amazed and inspired. I have spread deaf awareness through corporate channels as well through a multitude of client interactions and have had the great fortune to break many perceptions including the perception that the deaf are dumb, which they are not, unless they choose to be. My struggle for inclusiveness is far from over, overcoming barriers was part of the journey.

THE KEY

I think acceptance of my disability and making it my strength instead of my weakness was a remarkable feeling because I utilised that strength to attain whatever success I may have attained. It was also then that I was able to distinguish between my priorities and instead of remaining complacent, tried to rise up to achieve and lead a dignified and respected life.

I know I am different by design, but that hasn’t stopped me from walking a path that is different and setting the bar so that others can rise up and aspire for their dreams too.

I think I have my parents to credit for the enormous strength and fortitude that I possess, because it was through them that I have managed to sustain through many battles, many hardships and still triumph still.

AURAL-ORAL

Aural-Oral is learning to talk and communicate by lipreading, talking and also comprehending facial expressions in order to make sense of conversations. It is the method primarily taught at the Carel du Toit centre, however, it is a much harder method to practice and requires a lot of time and dedication, initially it is very frustrating, however rewarding at the end.

This method was achieved by my parents talking as normally as possible to me and after my diagnosis they focused entirely on lip-reading and aural training. They adhered very strictly to the guidelines set by the Carel du Toit centre in Cape Town such as speaking and being at my level, continuous repetition of basic and advanced sounds and words as well and oral (learning the spoken language) & aural (articulation ability), this was combined with learning the technique and skill of lip-reading.

I was taught primarily by my parents who made everything a lesson for me, I couldn’t play freely on the swings like other children because it was my lesson, when we were in the kitchen, cup, water, tap…were repeated continuously to me, so it began that every minute of the waking day was spent learning to talk.

THE “IMPOSSIBLE” OVERCOME

In the end, a lot of inclusive education lies in understanding diversity. The importance of cohesion and peaceful co-existent of disabled and abled individuals needs to be a standard benchmark for society at large to implement and embrace.

I believe that all of the learning starts at a young age, once basic language has been grasped and a great love for learning cultivated, it will not take long for academic excellence to take precedence over language and communication erudition.

Whereas I am a firm believer of reading as the means and mechanism to enable advanced communication, this is not being implemented stringently enough in modern schooling systems. Due to my overwhelming love for language and literature at large, I feel that my manners of expression are varied and as such language does not become a barrier but rather a way to prove the impossible, possible.

I will be the first to admit that there is a lot of emotional trauma that comes with the discovery of any disability, but the system and support structure needs to be in place so that one can be comfortable with the disability and learn in essence to overcome it. Denial of a disability rather than recognition of it will only be to one’s detriment. It forms the basis of the attitude, and once the attitude of self-pity is set on stone, it will take many more days to rise up from it to become self-sufficient.

The schooling system needs to provide for innovative methods of integration to allow the disabled person to feel included to prevent the onset of a personality and identity crisis. It is critical to consider the overall emotions and appreciate the difficulties that the deaf individual has to undergo.

Having said a lot of things, I will also acknowledge that whilst support structures can be put in place, whilst government and legislative influences can become known and whilst people slowly transform in their overall thinking, if it is to be, it has to be up to the disabled individual alone to aspire for whatever greatness inspires them so.

THE LESSON

If there’s anything I’d like to say to everyone, be grateful that you have all your faculties, and therefore use them wisely for the disuse of them is a great insult to our maker. Further, treasure your hearing for once it is lost, it will never be replaced again. Above all, I’d just like to say that when two roads of life appeared before me, I always chose the road that was different and less travelled on, and that has made all the difference.

Follow your soul – be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of anyone else.

With my very best regards,

Kashveera Chanderjith

[To read the story of Susannah sharing about being a mother to a daughter, Monrovia, who is deaf, click here]

[To read other stories of people living with a disability or special need, click here]

 

 

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