Young adults with disabilities showcase their creative abilities

Posted on September 18, 2015

During the week of 7-11 September 2015, the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) at the University of Pretoria successfully hosted their annual FOFA event. 'Fofa’ is a Sotho word which means ‘to fly’ or ‘to soar’. The aim of this project is to empower young adults who cannot speak to effectively use augmentative and alternative methods of communication (including mobile technologies) to improve their communication skills and to soar above their challenges. This is the tenth consecutive year that the project was run, and it was generously funded by Momentum.

The FOFA Project is the first of its kind in Africa. After the training week, participants are supported by their personal assistants, who attend the week with them, to put their newly acquired insights, knowledge and skills into practice at home and in their communities.

The theme for this year was ‘Words and beyond’ and the focus fell on self-expression through various media, including photography and creative writing. Seven young adults from five provinces (together with their personal assistants) were hosted on campus for a week. Two of them had previously completed the programme and acted as mentors to the others. A staff member of the CAAC who also uses augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) acted as the third mentor.

The week was filled with training, workshops, presentations and, of course, social events. At the beginning of the week, final-year students from Tshwane University of Technology’s Department of Visual Communication: Photography, facilitated a photo story activity, aimed at helping the participants to express who they are and how others see them through photographs. Marlene Le Roux, from Artscape Theatre in Cape Town, gave a thought-provoking presentation on Tuesday about how to express yourself through dance and about embracing your disability as an ability. Also on Tuesday, Graham Clarke, a person who has been using AAC for more than 15 years, gave a motivating talk via Skype that enthused all participants and care-givers. On Thursday morning, the three mentors each gave encouraging and informative talks about ‘Why writing skills are important’, ‘Social media: Do’s and don’t’s’ and ‘Living life to the full’.

The master’s students from the Department of English presented exciting creative writing workshops throughout the week – on topics such as poetry, crafting powerful descriptions through words and joint story writing – to arouse the participants’ inner writers and poets. They even aroused the inner poets in the participants’ personal assistants and the CAAC staff members.

Thursday afternoon was a special, eventful afternoon that saw the FOFA participants receiving glamorous make-overs by the talented Ranaa Patel (, followed by a glitzy photo shoot by the brilliant photographer, Marike Uitenweerde from EYEscape Photography (

Thursday night ended off with a beautiful ‘fine-dining’ experience at EAT@UP, where the participants enjoyed a lovely evening filled with delicious food, soft music and pleasant company.

On Friday, the young adults presented their creative works (photographs, poems and stories) to an open audience, showcasing their creative abilities and demonstrating that lack of intelligible speech does not prevent them from expressing who they are or from using words and pictures to change mind-sets and negative perceptions about people with disabilities.

The participants clearly benefitted greatly from the project and their growth in skills and confidence was visible during the week. The workshops afforded them new ways of expressing who they are and sharing their thoughts, dreams and ideas with others. The week also served to create awareness of the abilities and achievements of people who use AAC and to showcase the achievements of the participants to the broader community.

Together with additional contributions from other individuals who use AAC, the creative works are planned to be published in a coffee-table book that showcases the talents of people who, despite not being able to speak, can share who they are through various media.

It was an unforgettable week that impacted on each and every individual involved.

We would like to take this opportunity to send a special thank you to the following individuals without whom this week would not have been possible:

  • Momentum, who generously sponsored the event,
  • Marike and Lourens Uitenweerde from EYEscape Photography,
  • Ranaa Patel from RMfashionary,
  • Marlene le Roux from Artscape Theatre,
  • EAT@UP,
  • Vilene Jacobs for taking photographs of our participants,
  • the master’s students from the Department of English at the University of Pretoria,
  • the final-year students from the Department of Visual Communication: Photography at Tshwane University of Technology, and
  • all the dedicated staff at the CAAC who so freely and willingly give of their time during the week.


- Author Dr Tonsing and Mrs White

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