A supportive family, access to mainstream schooling and my determined personality helped me to achieve independence and a positive outlook on life. I was born without arms and shortened legs (the medical term is Phocomelia). While there was no medical explanation for my disability, I was fortunate that my parents were determined to have an optimistic view for my future.
I attended mainstream schooling and learnt to write with my right foot. I was a happy and outgoing child, taking part in many activities at school including swimming, tennis (I held a racket between my chin and shoulder!) and drama. I did well academically and was always self-motivated – I do not think my parents ever had to tell me to do my homework!
Independence was always important to me and it was a great challenge to begin university life. I was fortunate to achieve a full bursary and attended the University of Stellenbosch and stayed in residence. I battled with the walking distances on campus and I relied on friends and classmates to take me to lectures in a wheelchair. In my second year, I obtained funding for a motorised wheelchair and this gave me the freedom to move around campus independently. I completed my BA degree (majoring in Psychology and Social Work), followed by my Honours degree in Psychology (cum laude) in 2001. During my university years, it was a dream of mine to be able to drive a car.
As a child, my parents made contact with a young woman in the UK with a similar disability who drove an adapted car. In 2001, she heard about my dream to drive. She was in the process of having a new car adapted and kindly donated her “old” car to me – a 1995 Honda Civic. As her disability is not exactly the same as mine, further adaptations were necessary to enable me to drive. I undertook fundraising efforts and visited the UK for fittings and basic driving lessons.
In 2002, I was selected for the Master’s Programme in Clinical Psychology at University of Stellenbosch. It was also during this year that my car arrived in South Africa and I obtained my driver’s licence. What a great accomplishment! I remember how liberated and proud I felt driving away from the Stellenbosch Traffic Department on my own! Driving a car was certainly important to my independence and self-confidence, but also to my career development as I needed to be mobile to visit communities, clinics and hospitals in and around Cape Town.
Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for the opportunity that driving has given me. I have always been interested to meet with local conversion specialists to show them my incredible car in the hope that one day somebody could develop the joystick steering system that I use to drive.
I have been working on a long-term project with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) to develop this technology locally to make it more affordable and accessible to South Africans. The project entitled “Driving Dreams” was selected as part of World Design Capital 2014 in Cape Town.
I love taking people for a drive so they can see how the adaptations work. My car certainly attracts a great deal of attention. Whenever I step in or out of my car, onlookers are astounded. I never feel offended by this, as it is rather incredible that a person can drive a car without arms!
I am still on my journey of continuing my own independence. I want to inspire other people with disabilities to be able to drive, challenge the stereotype of disability and highlight the ABILITIES of people with disabilities!