Walking into the Graduation hall and stepping onto the podium to be capped and hooded was as much a tremendous achievement for Ms Voloshni Annamallay as it was for the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Congratulations are in order for UKZN’s first-ever Deaf graduate to acquire both undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications using South African Sign Language (SASL) as a means of communication.
‘My legs were shaking as I got closer to the stage. Wow! I felt overwhelmed and honoured,’ said a tearful Annamallay who graduated with an Honours Degree in Criminology and Forensic Studies. Annamallay’s graduation ceremony was held at the UKZN Westville campus on 16 May 2022.
Proud parents Popsy and Siven Annamallay, who attended the ceremony said they stood up to cheer and applause as loudly as they possibly could. ‘I couldn’t hold back my tears. We are so proud of our daughter,’ said mother, Popsy.
‘Twenty-four years ago – the moment I came to know that my daughter who was just one-and-a-half years old at the time, was never going to be able to hear again – I couldn’t imagine her future. I didn’t know if she’d go to school let alone university. I thought she’d fall by the wayside but as she got older she got more and more academically inclined. She just grew. She never failed a year of school. She showed me she’d do well but I never realised she’d be this great woman she’s become,’ added Popsy.
Breaking through tremendous barriers during her academic journey, Annamallay is a role model for all people with disabilities who dream of attaining a Higher Education qualification.
‘I am able. You are able,’ is her rallying call to the youth in South Africa’s hard of hearing community.
‘You can do it, nothing is stopping you from what you aspire to become or do, you must simply believe that you can and make and take the necessary steps to achieve your goals,’ said Annamallay. ‘Yes, I am Deaf and faced many challenges during my studies but I made it through all the way from my first year of studies until now. I can do anything except hear!’ she added.
A passion to help seek justice for victims of crime in South Africa led Annamallay to enrol in Criminology studies, ‘I have a vision for a brighter and safer country for all people and I will work towards making that vision a reality.’
She described her learning experience as ‘overwhelming and daunting. It was quite difficult to adjust at the beginning, being in classes full of hearing individuals and also navigating the social aspect of being on campus as well as finding my own way of communicating with individuals who had not been in close contact with a Deaf person before.
‘I am thankful to have made many friends and acquaintances from the Disability Unit and the University at large, proving that Deaf people can take up space and easily integrate with individuals from different walks of life. Communication may have been a barrier but the willingness of people to learn how to communicate with me was very comforting.’
UKZN’s Executive Director: Corporate Relations, Ms Normah Zondo, said the Institution was extremely proud of Annamallay and her highly commendable achievement. ‘Annamallay has not only achieved highly for herself but also for UKZN and the Deaf community as a whole. Her academic journey has also given the University critical experience in supporting future Deaf students.’
UKZN Disability Co-ordinator, Mr Nevil Balakrishna, who has worked closely with Annamallay since the start of her academic journey in 2016 praised her for being one of only a few Deaf young people to gain admission and complete studies at tertiary level in South Africa. ‘Among factors causing low admission rates are the demands of Sign Language and the low pass rate among Deaf learners who are expected to blend into a highly verbal and written space using South African Sign Language which is a developing language. The lack of academic signs and fast-paced learning demanded for success presents the Deaf student with a myriad of challenges and barriers,’ said Balakrishna.
‘This is all the more reason why Annamallay’s achievement is highly commendable. She has paved the way for other Deaf students who aspire towards Higher Education and given the Deaf community a voice that provides greater impact to the motto of the disability rights movement: ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’.’
Annamallay has applied to study further and is also looking to step into the working world.