- Family 1: The Experiences of a University Student Who Is Deaf—A Child’s Perspective
I, Bontle Lorato Rasebopye, am the only Deaf child in my family since the age of 3 or 4 years old. I do not know how I became deaf. My parents took me to several doctors, but they could not explain what caused my deafness. It was recommended that they visit the University of the Witwatersrand so that I could undergo audiological testing. Specialists there researched my hearing loss through speech therapy and hearing tests. I could hear sounds like other hearing children, but the words and messages from the speaker could not be interpreted through my brain. A professor discovered that my deafness was called Landau–Kleffner syndrome.
After I got the diagnosis, my mother, Dorothy Rasebopye, insisted that I would be hearing again when I was grown up. She persuaded me to speak on the telephone with family members and always to use my voice. I was uncomfortable and felt low self-esteem. Once, when I got frustrated and angry, I decided that I did not want to speak on the phone again. People tend to call Deaf people stubborn and mad when they became angry about being treated unequally and differently.
At about 5 years old, I arrived with my parents at my first Deaf school, Sizwile. While my parents were talking with a teacher, I saw Deaf children using sign language in the classroom and became enthusiastic. A Deaf girl took me to join her classmates in playing. She impressed me by signing “come with me” and then held up my hand toward the playing area. I was happy with them because I felt they were Deaf children like me. And we could communicate in sign language as it was accessible to me. That was how I realized that I could decline to use my voice or speak on the phone. Later my parents disappeared; I wondered where they had gone. I guessed I would see them at home. But when I got home from the school, my parents were not there, and I started to cry terribly. I was staying with another family in Soweto during school, but on weekends and school holidays I went home to North-West Province. I attended the school until 1991. Its education was slow and poor.
In the postapartheid period, I then moved to another school in Melrose, Johannesburg, called the St. Vincent School for the Deaf, where I matriculated. That school was one of the good Deaf schools in South Africa. However, I was not satisfied with its education because teachers governed the choice of subjects, especially vocational and national curriculum frameworks (N1, N2 and N3) for Deaf children who did not want them. These children wanted to get educated like students at hearing schools. I preferred a theoretical emphasis more than a practical one. In high school I never got the opportunity to do projects or assignments, unlike what I did at the Wits Technikon (now the University of Johannesburg), where, over the course of 5 years, I completed studies for an access program (a diploma) and finally a B.Tech. in fashion design.
When I was a second-year student, I was offered a part-time job with the South African Sign Language (SASL) research project at Center for Deaf Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. I learned facts about the linguistics of SASL and Deaf culture. It was interesting, but sadly, mostly Deaf people in the South African community did not know anything about the facts as I did because Deaf schools in the country did not teach SASL as a subject, and the government was not [End Page 507] aware of it. There were no available scientific SASL resources.
The project proposed to collect SASL data from South African members of the Deaf community and then to analyze the research findings. The data were incredibly valued because they were based on evidence about SASL issues. One could consider that SASL should be an official language of South Africa as it was a real language like any other spoken language. SASL was not relevant to spoken...