Overcoming Disability

Each year, WUSC supports dozens of bright and hard-working students from Botswana who come to study full programs at Canadian universities and colleges. The Government of Botswana has been sponsoring students to study in Canada since 1981 in order for them to develop specific skills, which will enable them to secure jobs that will contribute to their country’s development.

To date, WUSC’s ISM program has helped 1500 students to study in over 30 universities and colleges across the country. Fields of study include engineering, science, health and architecture. 90% of the sponsored students have successfully completed their degrees and diplomas on time and have returned to Botswana. There are currently 189 Batswana students studying in universities and colleges across Canada.

Since 2010, an important new initiative under this sponsorship has taken place. WUSC works closely with eight university and colleges including Vancouver Island University, to support 24 Batswana students with visual, hearing and physical disabilities. These students have excelled in Canadian post-secondary institutions that enrich them academically while also providing proper support and resources to meet their needs.

Goabaone Montsho, a visually impaired student at Vancouver Island University, is an inspiration on his campus. Goabaone is willing to share his story while reminding his fellow students that being blind is not a disability, it is a character trait. It does not make a person “incomplete,” but rather allows for a unique way of living life.

 

Read more about Goaboane's experience: 

The following story was written by Goabaone Montsho. Goabaone is a visually impaired student from Botswana, who came to Canada to study at Vancouver Island University through WUSC's Internatioanl Student Management. This article was originally featured in VIU's student newspaper.  

Human nature (being what it is) may influence us to believe that people who are born physically different, or those who get disfigured after birth, are disabled. Society expects that a ‘normal’ human being should have five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. However, are people who are born without one of these senses incomplete in some real sense? The answer will likely be determined by our individual perceptions on people living with disabilities or on the cultural and societal norms to which we have been exposed.

A number of people in our student community at VIU are blind. Some of us were born without sight, and some of us, such as me, lost our sight during our childhood or early teens. Most people judge sight to be the most crucial of all of our senses as we live in such a visually-based world. For example, sight is the tool humans use to judge the beauty of the world, nature, and even each other. Still, when sight diminishes, such as mine did, the remaining senses can compensate for this loss to quite an amazing degree, and many blind people live normal lives free from most restrictions.

People are unique and different; this means we have different ways of carrying out our daily routines such as household chores, studying, and enjoying an active social life generally. The blind have their way of performing their routines without sight. As a visually impaired person, I perform almost all household chores, such as cooking, without too many problems. It does not require sight to cook any recipe. What is important to know is what one is doing. My kitchen setup is in my mind: I have a mental map of my surroundings. Therefore, I know where every utensil is and working in the kitchen is easy for me. Cooking is all about knowing your recipe, not seeing what you are doing. Thus, it is simple for a blind to be a good cook. People always ask me questions such as “aren’t you afraid you’ll burn yourself on a hot stove?” Well, I suppose if I were to touch a burning stove with my hands I would burn myself, but since my sense of touch is so attuned to heat and cold, I can sense it well before I touch it just as a sighted person will see the heat with their eyes. Being physically blind has not limited my culinary talents at all!

I personally believe that blindness is a character trait rather than a physical lack of sight. While being physically blind may mean doing things in a special way, it is not a disability. Many people who can see with twenty-twenty vision are far more blind than any physical disability could ever make them. Everyone has dreams, and most of us envision ourselves being successful in life. In most cases the only pathway to success is education.

I know a number of visually impaired people who have good academic records. Being a blind post-secondary student and keeping up academically is challenging and different from when I could see, as I now depend largely on my hearing to glean information from my surroundings, and my sense of touch is vital when doing my school work. Braille is my method of writing and reading.

As my index fingers run through brailed letters, information runs from my fingers to my brain, much as it does for other students when reading by sight: the only difference is that the message is transmitted in their brains through different pathways. I also have another more technological method of reading any written document through software programs on my laptop such as Jaws. Jaws tells me what keystrokes that I am hitting, so it lets me know what I am doing as I navigate my laptop’s keyboard. Another program that I use if called Kurzweil. This device is a screen reader which reads my textbooks, Word documents, and pdf’s to me, thus making it possible for me to use the computer for everything independently.

Being able to walk alone from one point to another without the assistance of other people is important, as it reflects confidence and builds up the feeling of dignity within ourselves as well. It is challenging for a blind person to be an independent traveller, since in a sighted world with many obstacles it can make one feel insecure. To overcome this limitation, low-tech technology has made it easier for blind people such as me to be independent mobility-wise too. A white cane is vital for orientation when walking. It helps me to identify land marks and tells me of obstacles along my route. However, my most important walking tool is my memory.

My memory is more crucial than anything else to help me get to where I want to go. For instance, if my internal map is incorrect I will get lost. Naturally, there are also other aids for mobility such as a guide dog and various techniques for safety. Being independent mobility-wise equates to greater social integration for blind people.

Being an active part of both the student community at VIU, and the larger Nanaimo community I now find myself in, helps me to feel a greater sense of integrity and boosts my self-esteem: two important qualities when one has lost their sight. I believe that life is made up of both challenges and joys, and that being content and having a positive self-concept is more important than being able to see. Everybody has the potential to live a fulfilled, successful life, and while I may not be able to physically ‘see’ you, I do have the ability to ‘read’ your character well enough to be a good friend. Come up and introduce yourself. I’d love to meet you sometime.

 

 

Learn more about WUSC's International Student Management program. 

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