MPhil for disability activist

12 June 2006

Life‚s lessons: MPhil graduand Washeila Sait (middle) with her supervisors Assoc Prof Melissa Steyn (left) (diversity studies, Department of Sociology), and Dr Theresa Lorenzo (disability studies, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences).

When Washiela Sait graduates with her MPhil in Disability Studies this week, she will become something of a pioneer. Sait was one of the first parents of a disabled child to be accepted for the course on the basis of the Recognition of Prior Learning initiative.

Sait's formal education extends to a matric certificate. In attempting to provide a gateway to those denied learning opportunities, the university accepted her advanced certificate in adult education, as well as her years of activism for the rights of the disabled, in lieu of an undergraduate degree.

Her disabled son died at 14 and though she juggled the demands of caring for him, an able-bodied son, a husband and a home, she was able to plough considerable energy into this cause.

Over the years Sait influenced policy development and service delivery, advocating for the integration of issues affecting disabled children.

She was instrumental in the development in Mitchell's Plain of one of the first day care centres for disabled children in the early 1990s, working with a community-based rehabilitation centre affiliated to the University of the Western Cape. She was also one the founders of the Mitchell's Plain Disability Action Group and the director and national organiser of the Disabled Children's Action Group.

"My disabled son taught me a lot and what I learnt from my son, I fed back into the community," Sait said.

Sait used to go door to door, visiting homes in the community to ensure its members were sensitised to disability issues and mobilised to help those in need, particularly mothers of disabled children.

"We were passing on lessons from one mother to another and challenging professionals in service delivery."

One of the greatest lessons her disabled son had taught her was to appreciate diversity.

"We need to be accepting of diversity to be able to live in this world. We can't co-exist without understanding that."

Her husband and son will attend the graduation ceremony and after that, she says, the celebration will be thrown open to the entire family.

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