Achieving new heights despite a debilitating setback

23 March 2020 | Story Nadia Krige. Photo Supplied. Read time 7 min.
Jamie Adams has graduated with an honours degree in organisational psychology.
Jamie Adams has graduated with an honours degree in organisational psychology.

When Jamie Adams lost her right leg due to a motorbike accident in 2013, navigating the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) stair-studded and steeply inclined campus suddenly became a daunting task. In spite of the many new challenges she faced, Jamie was set to graduate during the March graduation season, which had to be suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“In the beginning, it definitely wasn’t easy,” Jamie said. “As you can imagine, UCT is built on a mountain and as beautiful as that might be, it made navigating campus on crutches and later on a prosthetic challenging.”

Not one to be defeated, Jamie persevered and soon found herself acclimatising to her new way of moving around campus with support from those around her.

“My peers and lecturers treated me no differently to how they treated each other, which I really appreciated (sometimes to the point of forgetting to book accessible venues).”

She emphasised the fact that she never felt isolated or judged by her classmates because of her disability and that they all offered each other an equal measure of support in the pursuit of their futures.

Support from UCT’s Disability Service

Among all those who offered support, Jamie said that UCT’s Disability Service was her greatest cheerleader and was always available to help, no matter what she needed.

An example she mentioned was that at her previous graduation ceremonies, they went the extra mile to make the occasion stress-free and pleasant for her.

“Graduation can actually be quite stressful for someone with a disability, because first of all you’re navigating stairs, need to kneel to be capped, and then carry down your certificate, all in front of a crowded hall,” she explained.


“The disability unit took away all my stress, seating me in front, carrying the certificate on my behalf.”

“The disability unit took away all my stress, seating me in front, carrying the certificate on my behalf, even ensuring the vice-chancellor stands so I don’t need to kneel to be capped.”

Jamie added that the Disability Service also brought to her attention a special bursary she could apply for thanks to funding from the FirstRand Foundation (Tshikululu Social Investments). Being awarded the bursary helped lighten the financial burden resting on her parents’ shoulders, Jamie said.

Second honours degree in the bag

With the support of her family, fellow students, lecturers and UCT’s Disability Service, Jamie’s perseverance and will to achieve has stood her in good stead – she has just received her second honours degree, this time in organisational psychology.

In her thesis, she investigated the relationship between decent work and quality of life for individuals with intellectual disabilities. She pointed out that there is a widely held belief that integration of people with intellectual disabilities into the world of work is the healthiest option.

Her research set out to establish whether people with intellectual disabilities agreed with this view. By interviewing a range of individuals with intellectual disabilities, she discovered that with full integration came an unforeseen amount of pressure to live up to often unattainable standards of work.

What instead appeared to be the most rewarding – ie most decent – work for these individuals was workshops where a choice between different types of crafts (eg gardening, woodwork, farming, etc) was offered.

“I loved getting the chance to interview 23 people with intellectual disabilities about their perspectives around the most rewarding and most decent forms of work,” she said.

A juggling act

Jamie shared that one of the greatest challenges she’s faced in her academic journey has been ensuring that her work – especially her thesis topics – remained in line with her future goal of becoming a clinical psychologist.

With the goal of being accepted for a master’s in clinical psychology – a highly competitive degree – Jamie has had to perform a fine balancing act, which included being a school counsellor part-time, tutoring, doing a finance course and completing a second honours degree.

“The most challenging point was just trying to juggle those roles, as well as ensuring I maintained a balanced life,” she said. “In turn, the most rewarding aspect has been collecting the data for my two theses.”


“The most rewarding aspect has been collecting the data for my two theses.” 

Jamie has managed to do all of this with flying colours, while also being a source of inspiration and encouragement to many around her. Her efforts have also been rewarded with her admittance to the Golden Key International Honour Society for being among the top 15% in her class. She also received a job offer from First National Bank.

“The job offer was for a role in learning and development in Johannesburg, so I took a leap of faith and relocated in January 2020.”

Despite missing friends and family back home in Cape Town, she hasn’t regretted her choice for one moment and continues to work toward her dream of becoming a clinical psychologist.

Wishing first-time graduands well

Unfortunately, UCT’s graduation ceremonies have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to some disappointment among graduands and those who would have watched them receive their certificates. However, there has also been a good deal of understanding and support from the university community.

Jamie and her brother were both meant to graduate this month and, while they, and especially their parents, are somewhat disappointed about the ceremonies being suspended, they realise that not getting capped on stage won’t detract from the hard work they put in to gain their degrees.

“I am sorry for those who are graduating for the first time (like my brother),” she said. “I am sorry you won’t hear the crowd applaud your huge efforts to attain a UCT degree; it is no small feat!

“So, I say well done and know that your peers are with you in acknowledging the hard times, the lack of a social life, the stress and sheer determination it took to get that piece of paper.” 

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