Deaf distance student receives Grade R Diploma
“I never thought that I would ever reach a university, let alone obtain a qualification.” These were the words of Lizette Fitzpatrick, who received her Grade R Diploma from the North-West University (NWU). She is the very first deaf person who received this qualification through distance learning.
During her diploma ceremony at the NWU’s campus in Potchefstroom her mother, Marelize Gouws, helped to interpret the interview for this article.
Lizette, a 30-year-old mother of two busy little ones, says that she can’t sit still. After finishing school she obtained a qualification from a private college for drafting house plans, among other things. “As deaf person I was not comfortable among hearing people in an office setting, and I could not sit still and work any longer.” She resigned after a year and looked after the children of the staff of the Transoranje School for the Deaf during the day.
This was the same school where she had completed her schooling in 2007, and where her mother has been a teacher for the past 20 years. They lived on the premises of Transoranje.
While minding the children, Lizette decided that this was what she would love to do, and with the assistance of her mother she started enquiring about where she could study early childhood development.
Marelize says that the NWU’s distance-learning programme was the only one that was prepared to assist her. Lizette had to do a bridging course first, as the matric standard of a school for the deaf did not allow for university exemption.
Lizette says that she is especially grateful for the assistance that she received from Susan Greyling, her programme leader at the NWU’s division for educational management and leadership. Lizette started her studies in 2015 and could complete the diploma within three years.
“I am also particularly grateful for my mother’s assistance, as she had to interpret a lot of the written study material for me. It is not easy for a deaf person to understand the written and spoken language at university level.”
Marelize says it was a great privilege to help her daughter with her studies.
“I have been working at the St Vincent School for the Deaf in Johannesburg since 2011 and I cannot wait to attend to older children, because then I will be able to apply everything that I have learnt.”
Lizette is married to Stephen, also a deaf person. She met him through the deaf community, which is is very small.
Although their children, Ruari (6) and Caitlin (2), can hear, they are already fluent in sign language, as they used it to communicate with their parents since they were very small.
Marelize Gouws and her daughter, Lizette Fitzpatrick, during her diploma ceremony at the NWU.