Living As a Deaf Person in South Africa: Ask Carrie Rossouw
In celebration of Deaf Awareness Month, we're excited to have a conversation with Carrie Rossouw, a valued member of Feelgood Health’s marketing team. Carrie was born deaf and is a passionate advocate for Deaf Awareness – she certainly has an inspiring story to share! In Deaf Awareness Month, we aim to promote understanding and inclusivity, and there’s no better person to discuss this with other than Carrie!
Let's begin by discussing your journey here at our company. Can you share a bit about your role and how you initially joined Feelgood Health’s marketing team?
Carrie: "I initially joined Feelgood Health as an intern and was later promoted to the position of Marketing Assistant. In my role, I am responsible for various aspects of our marketing efforts. I play a key role in managing our website, ensuring that it is up to date with relevant content and user-friendly. Additionally, I actively engage in managing our social media accounts, creating and curating content to engage with our audience and increase brand visibility. Another important aspect of my role is handling newsletters, where I work on creating compelling and informative content to keep our customers informed and engaged with our products and services. Overall, I thoroughly enjoy my time working with the marketing and sales team at Feelgood Health and contribute to our efforts in promoting health and wellness to our valued customers."
Outside of Feelgood Health, please share a bit about yourself, your education and your experiences as a Deaf person living in South Africa?
Carrie: "I was born Deaf and have been fortunate to have a Cochlear Implant, which has greatly improved my ability to hear and communicate. My educational journey has been marked by determination and perseverance. In 2007, I matriculated at Dominican Grimley School for the Deaf in Hout Bay, which is now known as Seven Steps. Graduating from there was a significant achievement for me, given the unique challenges Deaf students face in traditional educational settings.
More recently, I reached a milestone in my education by graduating from Varsity College earlier this year. This accomplishment was particularly meaningful to me because, at times, I doubted whether I would be able to achieve it. Throughout my college years, I faced the added challenge of relying on lip reading to understand my lecturers, which required intense focus and dedication.
Living as a Deaf individual in South Africa has had its share of challenges. Access to employment opportunities, services, and even basic communication resources can be limited for Deaf individuals. It often requires advocating for our rights and educating others about Deaf culture and the importance of accessibility.
Despite the obstacles, my journey has been one of resilience and growth. I hope to continue breaking down barriers and raising awareness about the Deaf community's unique needs and contributions in South Africa."
In Deaf Awareness Month, we aim to promote understanding and inclusivity. In what ways do you think Deaf Awareness Month helps promote understanding and inclusivity?
Carrie: "Deaf Awareness Month plays a crucial role in promoting understanding and inclusivity by raising awareness about the deaf and hard of hearing community's unique needs, challenges, and contributions. It provides an opportunity for education and advocacy, encouraging people to learn sign language, understand communication barriers, and support inclusive policies and practices. Additionally, it highlights the talents and achievements of deaf individuals, fostering a more inclusive society where everyone's abilities are celebrated and accommodated."
As great as it is to focus on the positives, it’s equally important to highlight the struggles that Deaf people have faced, and still face. In your own experience, have you struggled to find employment in South Africa?
Carrie: "In my personal experience, I've definitely encountered significant challenges when it comes to finding employment here in South Africa as a Deaf individual. Despite having the necessary qualifications and skills for various job opportunities, I've faced a prevalent lack of understanding and hesitance among employers when it comes to hiring Deaf or Hard of Hearing individuals.
Over the course of a year, I submitted numerous job applications, only to be met with rejection after rejection. It became clear that the main reason for these rejections wasn't related to my qualifications or experiences, but rather rooted in employers' fear or uncertainty about hiring someone with a hearing loss. This struggle persisted even after gaining nine years of valuable experience working for a healthcare company. It was disheartening to realise that my potential contributions were being overshadowed by misconceptions and biases related to my deafness.
Considering my personal journey and the experiences of many other Deaf adults, I strongly encourage employers to reconsider their reservations and take a chance on hiring Deaf individuals. Contrary to misconceptions, Deaf adults are highly capable, motivated, and talented individuals who can bring unique perspectives and skills to the workplace. By giving them the opportunity to showcase their abilities, employers can not only tap into this valuable pool of talent but also promote inclusivity and diversity in their workforce. In my own experience, Deaf individuals can be a source of inspiration and can contribute significantly to the success of any organisation."
Besides employment, can you tell us about some of the challenges you've faced and the triumphs you've achieved as a member of the Deaf community?
Carrie: "One of the significant challenges I've encountered is communication with hearing individuals. Lip reading can be quite challenging, as it requires intense concentration and focus to understand what someone is saying by watching their lip movements. Initially, it can be tough to grasp everything, especially when interacting with new people. However, as I become more familiar with someone's speech patterns and lip movements, communication tends to improve over time.
To aid in communication, I have also utilised speech-to-text apps, which have been incredibly helpful. These apps can convert spoken language into text in real-time, allowing me to read what others are saying. This technology has proven invaluable in situations where sign language isn't readily available or practical.
Another challenge I faced was during my time at Varsity College when I was pursuing my education. Finding appropriate support services and accommodations can sometimes be a struggle, but I persisted and made sure to access the necessary resources to succeed academically.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique set of challenges for the Deaf community. With mask-wearing becoming essential, it became even more difficult to understand spoken language, as facial expressions and lip movements were partially obscured. This made everyday interactions more challenging, but again, adaptability and the use of technology played a crucial role in overcoming these obstacles.
In terms of triumphs, one significant achievement I'm proud of is earning my diploma without the need for an interpreter. This accomplishment showcased my determination and ability to excel in an educational setting independently. Overall, being a member of the Deaf community has presented both challenges and triumphs. It has required adaptability, resourcefulness, and perseverance in various aspects of life, but it has also demonstrated the resilience and capabilities of individuals within this community."
How can individuals and companies better support and advocate for deaf awareness and inclusivity, not just during this month, but year-round?
Carrie: "To promote year-round deaf awareness and inclusivity in South Africa, individuals and companies can start by investing in deaf awareness training for their staff, fostering a culture of inclusion, and ensuring that their facilities and services are accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community. Encouraging the use of South African Sign Language (SASL) in the workplace and offering sign language classes can also be valuable initiatives. Furthermore, supporting local deaf organisations, participating in events and initiatives focused on deaf awareness, and actively seeking input from the deaf community in decision-making processes can help create lasting change. The key is to make inclusivity and deaf awareness a continuous commitment rather than just a one-month observance."
What are some misconceptions or stereotypes about the Deaf Community that you'd like to address during Deaf Awareness Month?
Carrie: "During Deaf Awareness Month in South Africa, it's crucial to dispel misconceptions and stereotypes about the Deaf Community. Firstly, many people wrongly assume that being Deaf equates to a life of isolation and dependence when in reality, Deaf individuals lead vibrant and independent lives. Secondly, there's a misconception that sign language is universal, but in truth, different sign languages exist worldwide, like South African Sign Language (SASL), which is unique to our country.
Furthermore, it's important to challenge the notion that Deaf people are incapable of meaningful communication or understanding spoken language. Deaf individuals can excel in various fields and communicate effectively through sign language, lip reading, or written communication. Finally, it's crucial to recognise that Deafness is not a disability but a cultural and linguistic identity. By dispelling these stereotypes, we can foster inclusivity, equality, and understanding within our society."
It’s evident that the people in the Deaf Community have to put in a lot of hard work and perseverance in order to break through many barriers. How can people who want to support the deaf community and raise awareness get involved?
Carrie: "To support the Deaf community and raise awareness in South Africa, there are several ways individuals can get involved. First and foremost, learning South African Sign Language (SASL) is a valuable step, as it fosters communication and understanding. Volunteer at local Deaf organisations (DeafSA), schools, or community centres to offer your time and skills. Advocacy is also crucial; engage in discussions about Deaf rights, inclusion, and accessibility, and promote these topics through social media or public events.
Support Deaf-owned businesses, artists, and initiatives to empower the community economically. Finally, consider donating to or fundraising for organisations that work towards improving Deaf education, employment opportunities, and access to healthcare. By actively participating in these actions, you can contribute to breaking down barriers and creating a more inclusive society for the Deaf community in South Africa."
Outside of your career and your advocacy for Deaf Awareness, tell us a bit more about who you are on a personal level. We’d love to learn about your hobbies, interests, skills, or anything else you’d like to share with us.
Carrie: "On a personal level, I thoroughly enjoy socialising with friends and spending quality time with my family. Whether it's a night out at a local restaurant or a cosy gathering at home, building and nurturing relationships is something I truly cherish.
Another passion of mine lies in the realm of IT – I find great satisfaction in repairing both software and hardware components of computers, be it laptops or desktops. It's a combination of problem-solving and technical expertise that I find incredibly fulfilling.
My love for animals is evident in my home, where I share my space with a wonderful dog and two adorable cats, each adding their own unique charm to my life. Lastly, I'm an avid movie enthusiast and often indulge in binge-watching on Netflix, exploring a wide range of genres and stories that transport me to different worlds and perspectives.
Lastly, spending quality time with my nearly two years old nephew is a heartwarming experience, as I watch him grow and discover the world around him. These diverse interests and hobbies make up the mosaic of my personal life, adding depth and enjoyment to each day."
Thank you so much for sharing your insights and experiences with us, Carrie. Your perspective is invaluable in promoting awareness and inclusion during Deaf Awareness Month and beyond!