#UPGraduation2021: ‘Don’t let your disability prevent you from achieving your goals’ – Blind Social Science graduate hopes to inspire others

Posted on May 07, 2021

Aviwe Mado, who graduated with a BSocSci degree in Industrial Sociology and Labour Studies during the University of Pretoria’s (UP) autumn 2021 graduation season, says losing his eyesight at 16 made his studies more difficult, but the added challenge also made the reward of becoming a university graduate that much sweeter.

Mado, who is now pursuing an LLB degree at UP, hails from eMahemini village in the Eastern Cape and was born with glaucoma, which led to loss of his eyesight.

“Getting a degree from UP has set me apart from other graduates,” he says. “The fact that I live with a disability but managed to get a degree is a win for me. It is also motivation for people in my village that they too can achieve their goals.”  

Mado says his experience as a student at UP has been great. “I’ve received so much support from my peers and lecturers; my disability has not stopped me from getting good marks in any way.”

His first year of studying, however, was particularly challenging. “I faced most challenges during my first year at UP because I was not able to use a computer and I wasn’t used to the environment, so I kept getting lost on campus. I overcame the challenges with more practice and going to therapy, because I could not handle everything. In terms of finding my way around the campus, UP’s Disability Unit hired a mobility trainer; that’s when things became a bit easier for me.”

Juan Erwee of the Disability Unit has been instrumental in supporting Mado throughout his degree and helping him gain independence. Mado is a changed person from when he first met him, Erwee says. “Over the past three years, Mado has gone from being almost completely dependent on those around him to being a role model and mentoring incoming students with visual disabilities. I’ve always encouraged him to make use of technology to perform tasks so that he didn’t have to rely too much on other people. He has taken this to heart to the extent that we were able to continue with his studies throughout the pandemic, and he has finished his first degree within the standard three-year allocation.”

Erwee has great admiration for Mado. “His dedication to his studies and ability to achieve success despite all the challenges he has had to surmount really makes me proud to have walked some of this journey with him. I am sure his next degree will be an even greater success than the last.”

TuksSport Director Steven Ball, House Parent for Mado’s residence, Tuks Village, says it has been an honour and a privilege to have had Mado there for the past three years. “I have been fortunate to have engaged with him over many chats, and was once again reminded that your history, background and disability does not need to define who you are as a person and your willingness to succeed. It is truly special to see Mado finish his degree in three years. He has put in the effort and continually balanced the demands placed on him while always seeking to be the least dependent on others – he cooked his food throughout lockdown when UP catering wasn’t available – and to always be an honourable, polite and appreciative young man. I am so proud of him. Mado has impacted me and my family in ways he can’t imagine. This moment is only the beginning, Aviwe. Believe in yourself, and know that there are people who care deeply for you.”

Mado says that in five years’ time, he sees himself as a lawyer, and that he will prosper despite his disability. “I will probably be working in the Constitutional Court inspiring others.”

He advises those living with disabilities to dream big and know their passion. “Don’t let your disability prevent you from achieving your goals,” he says. “Greatness comes to those who act.”    

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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