- Family 2: An Afrikaans Vrou’s [Woman’s] Perspective on Deaf Education in South Africa—A Child’s Perspective
As a ninth-generation South African, I am proud not only of my heritage but also of being the first Deaf member of my family. As with so many families, the cause of my deafness is unknown. My father was a medical doctor and missionary in Nkhoma, Malawi, when I was born. Over the next few years, my mother and I made numerous [End Page 509] trips from that country back to the Carel du Toit Center in Western Cape Province, since services for Deaf people in Malawi were nonexistent.
I received oral training at Carel du Toit, a school designed for Deaf children, which was, at that time, of little benefit to me. Shortly thereafter, my parents decided to enroll me at the De La Bat School, which had a strong penchant for signing, in Worcester, in Western Cape—which was, in my opinion, a wise decision. Fortunately, my family had moved back to Stellenbosch, also located in Western Cape. My mother was strongly devoted to me and made the 1-hour daily commute to and from Worcester every Monday through Friday for my first year at De La Bat, a good hour and a half away.
When I was 12 years old, my father found a job that enabled him to relocate the entire family to Worcester. I want to emphasize that most families in South Africa do not have the means to offer what my family was able to provide me—the obstacles are simply too great for most. There was no doubt that my parents wanted the best for me, and through many battles and triumphs, I then went on to complete the 12th grade and subsequently receive a double major in mathematics and education at Gallaudet University in the United States.
I am about to finish my graduate degree in deaf education at McDaniel College (formerly known as Western Maryland College), and recently married a Deaf clinical psychologist who now works as a coordinator for a program at Gallaudet. In fall 2010 I began an internship at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, which is adjacent to the Gallaudet campus in Washington, DC.
Although I am blessed and privileged as a Deaf person from a developing country, I feel that I have a responsibility to speak the truth about what it is like to be a Deaf South African. Like many of my peers, I have found that the challenges of Deaf education in South Africa run far deeper than postapartheid society may reveal. I learned the extent of these challenges when I came to America to extend my education, which was not possible in South Africa due to a lack of professional interpreters and other auxiliary services at the university level.
For example, the educational system in South Africa is quite complicated by American standards. In South Africa, the majority of Deaf students who go on to finish high school receive NI, N2, N3, N4, and N5 levels of education, which do not qualify one for admission to a university. (The different N levels indicate different levels of training and certification in vocational education.) I was fortunate to be given four HG (higher-grade advanced honor classes) and two SG (standard grade) courses only after my mother fought with the school board to make this an option. This should not be an issue for those who are Deaf and want to advance their position so as to be able to enroll in a university. Once again the issue of choice is the challenge for Deaf learners.
This point leads to a second critical area that must be recognized—accessibility of Deaf persons whose primary means of communication is South African Sign Language (SASL). When I was being interviewed by universities in Western Cape, none had the ability to accommodate my needs, which in the United States would be a direct violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. There is a widespread belief that requirements of this sort exist in South Africa; yet they are hardly enforced, let alone monitored.