Education and employment: a lifeline for those living with disabilities
Life Ngubane shares her story of hope, determination and commitment
Wednesday, 2 December 2020, When you leave for work or school on Casual Day, spare a thought for the more than two million South Africans for whom education or employment opportunities may not come so easily.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is annually commemorated on 3 December. Here in South Africa, we know it as Casual Day, the flagship awareness and fundraising project of the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities. Across the country, people donate a small amount of money in return for a Casual Day sticker, which allows them to participate by dressing up or dressing down either for work or school for one day. This annual event raises funds and awareness for people living with disabilities.
This day is an important reminder to us that people living with disabilities are disproportionally limited in terms of their access to education and employment. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), over 2.8 million South Africans or 7.5% of our national population live with a disability – and this vast number does not even include statistics on children under the age of five or persons with psychosocial and certain neurological disabilities.
“It was only when I was 14 and in high school that I came to understand that we live in a world where not everyone is kind. I was not the most popular kid at school and I had to find my own way in this world. I had to accept that this was the life that I was given, this is the hand that I was dealt. It was up to me to ensure that I make the most of it, by not pitying myself or expecting others to feel sorry for me,” explains Life Ngubane (34), a pharmacy assistant at Medipost Pharmacy and an ambassador for people with disabilities within Medipost Holdings.
Rentia Myburgh, sales and marketing director of Medipost Holdings, which includes Medipost Pharmacy, MediLogisitcs, Kawari Wholesalers and Distribution and the MediTraining Academy, says Life was chosen to share her story not only because of her incredible zest for life but also for the fact that she is deeply respected by everyone.
“Life does not hesitate to make her voice heard and she has assisted us in making many positive changes to ensure that our employees with disabilities are given ample opportunities within the group,” adds Myburgh.
“I have a brain, I have a voice, and a very thick skin,” says Life, who as the ambassador for people with disabilities, feels strongly about educating people with disabilities.
“My message to individuals with disabilities is not to surrender to unemployment statistics. Use your voices to educate those around you about what it means to live with a disability. You have to use whatever you have to gain as much as possible from this world. Nobody else is able to do that for you. This is the life that was given to you and you have to live it to the fullest,” asserts Life.
“Every day brings its own struggles. I never know whether five taxis are going to drive past without giving me a second thought. I never know whether someone will be willing to assist me with reaching the button for an elevator or help open a door for me,” adds Life.
She is fiercely independent and sees herself just as any other person, albeit a very ‘short’ person, who just happens to have to get around in a wheelchair. “There is no reason to feel sorry for me. I was born this way and I have accepted it a long time ago.
“The really important thing people should know is that we don’t expect special treatment. What we want is equal opportunities, for people to understand that we are not that different from them as they may think. We have a meaningful contribution to make to society.
“We need to break down the stigmas that teach us that there is something wrong with a person who is living with a disability and start seeing everyone as simply being human. The only way we are able to do so is for the people who are living without disabilities to talk openly, to ask us about what it means to have a disability, what and when we require help with and, above all, to treat us as equals,” notes Life.
Life entered the world as one of a set of twins that their parents were not expecting. Life has a twin brother who was born minutes before her, and minutes before the medical team and her parents knew that a second baby was on its way. “I came as a complete surprise, nobody was expecting me,” laughs Ngubane as she explains her entry into the world.
Not only was Life born quite unexpectedly, she was also born with severe spina bifida, a birth defect that happens when the spine does not develop normally and as part of her condition was born with muscle weakness, loss of bladder control and paralysis.
“As a small child I spent most of my time in and out of hospital. I was very ill, had to have several operations and around the clock care,” she says. “Having been born in a rural community in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal neither my parents or our family were prepared for the challenges.
“It was only through the medical team that my parents were made aware and encouraged to understand that I was quite a bright child and that I had to be given the opportunity of a proper education, that there are schools for children with disabilities and that my only hope for a good future was a formal education,” she explains.
Life was placed in a remedial boarding school at the age of five and had to learn to become independent very quickly. “There was very little sympathy going around back in those days. I had to learn to dress, bath, move around and make my way to class myself with very little assistance. At the time it was quite a shock but today I am thankful for the valuable life lessons that I was taught during that time,” she says.
When Life went to high school, she had to relocate from KwaZulu-Natal to Soshanguve in Pretoria to accommodate her school needs, while her family remained behind in Richards Bay. She completed her matric, had big dreams of attending university, but life didn’t turn out that way.
“I applied for several short learnership courses and then only did the reality of living with a disability set in. I was well-cared for at the schools but nothing quite prepared me for the real world. The struggle to find a job was real but I wasn’t willing to give up and stay at home. I eventually secured a position as a receptionist at Medipost after applying for many positions, and decided that I was not going to become a statistic,” explains Life.
“Having an education or being able to educate someone else is one of the biggest gifts that you can ever receive. It has enabled me to see myself beyond a person living with a disability that can I live a meaningful life. I have a very keen mind, am willing to work hard and actually enjoy studying and learning. I will continue to strive to study further and educate myself whenever the opportunity presents itself,” concludes Life.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Medipost Holdings
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone: (011) 469 3016