Jenelle Ramsami, a 35-year-old from Durban, chats to us about the challenges she faces as a hearing-impaired person in the workplace.
According to Stats SA, there are around 2.9 million people with Sensory Impairment in South Africa yet only 1% are employed. In a bid to improve this, South African companies, iLearn and Netstar, came up with a programme that trained and placed over 10 people with Sensory Impairment in the workplace.
“We are excited that we’re able to employ all 11 learners from the programme and give them the opportunity to put their training to good use, and in doing so, increase our in-house skills base,” said Netstar’s Group Managing Director, Pierre Bruwer in a press release.
One of the people who benefited from the programme is Jenelle Ramsami, a qualified Monitoring Agent at Netstar. She chats to us about some of the challenges she faces as a person with hearing impairment and her vision to bridge the gap between the disabled and the “abled”.
“I was actually born hearing impaired. My mum was overdue, and I went into distress, so they had to induce my mum’s labour which lead me to being deaf. Growing up being partially deaf had many setbacks like trying to communicate. I remember at the time I never knew the meaning of deaf” says Jenelle.
She says her parents prepared her for the “mainstream world”. They encouraged her to always have a pen and book in her hand and she would write every word her mom spoke.
“I wrote my name before I could go school, that was why the doctor told my mom there is nothing wrong, and that I’m probably a late bloomer,” says the 35-year-old.
Jenelle says she used to cry a lot as a baby and her parents and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. One doctor told her mom she had colic while another said she was just throwing tantrums to get attention.
“It was only after I went to school where my teacher felt something was wrong. She called my parents and informed them that I was intelligent but couldn’t hear her at times, so she suggested that they take me to an ENT specialist. So, they confirmed that I was hearing impaired then a social worker referred me to V N Naik school for the deaf where I was later transferred to the ‘Durban school of hearing impaired’. They then realised I could lip read and use my voice.”
Jenelle says she was often teased because of her condition.
“Friends and family would tease, repeat what I say, [and] people would ask silly questions as if I’m mentally challenged or stuff like that. So, for a while I did go into a shell,” says Jenelle.
But she did not allow this to stop her from her achieving her dreams.
“After years of speech therapy that my parents made me attend every Saturday, I started to become comfortable with myself and accept my challenge. I then found myself taking part in activities such as acting in plays, singing, dancing and participating in school functions.”
“I’m a self-motivated person. Of course, I do have the support of my family and friends, but I always set myself realistic goals and make sure I accomplish them. Failure is my biggest motivation. I don’t want to be called a failure, so I give my 110% in everything I do. It doesn’t matter if I finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd, as long as I finished,” says the confident Jenelle.
She adds that she gained her confidence “through my participation in hearing pageants” and in acting. She was even a lead actress in a short deaf movie in Cape Town.
Jenelle went on to obtain a Diploma in Business Management at Oval Institution. After completing her studies, she got a job where she says she always felt isolated because of her condition.
“In previous workplaces, having been the only hard of hearing person, people’s actions and facial expressions made me feel isolated.”
But things changed after she was employed at Netstar.
“I can say I have finally found where I belong … They have made 9 deaf (people) including me permanent employees and the interpreter to work as Monitoring Agents. How amazing. I want to take this opportunity to thank iLearn for the 1-year learnership in Business Administration and to Netstar, the first company I know in South Africa to merge deaf staff into the mainstream. Everybody at Netstar from [the] CEO to management, supervisors, fellow employees in all departments, even the janitors and security, make us feel welcome and like we belong,” says Jenelle.
She adds that she hopes to bridge the gap between the disabled and the abled.
“We also deserve equal rights and do not wish to be isolated. Everyone is different. Disability is not a disease. ”
She says the public should treat people with disabilities with respect.
“Treat people with disabilities just as you would want someone to treat you. Smile, be friendly don’t make people with disabilities less important. Show respect so you can earn it. Set examples and bridge the gap between the able and the disabled,” she concludes.