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Cheers all round as UKZN produces its first deaf graduate

17 May 2022 - 13:26
Voloshni Annamallay is the University of KwaZulu-Natal's first deaf graduate.
Voloshni Annamallay is the University of KwaZulu-Natal's first deaf graduate.
Image: Supplied

Future forensic scientist Voloshni Annamallay made history on Monday when she became the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) first deaf graduate.

“My legs were shaking as I got closer to the stage. I felt overwhelmed and honoured,” said Annamallay, who graduated with a honours degree in criminology and forensic studies.

Her achievement makes her the first person to acquire undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications at UKZN using SA sign language as a means of communication.

Her parents, Popsy and Siven Annamallay, said they stood up to cheer and applaud as loudly as they could when their daughter went up to be capped.

“I couldn’t hold back my tears. We are so proud of our daughter,” said Popsy.

“Twenty-four years ago — the moment I came to know my daughter, who was one-and-a-half years old at the time, was never going to be able to hear again — I couldn’t imagine her future. I didn’t know if she’d go to school, let alone university.

She showed me she’d do well but I never realised she’d be the great woman she’s become
Popsy Annamallay, Voloshni's mum

“I thought she’d fall by the wayside, but as she got older she became more and more academically inclined. She never failed a year at school. She showed me she’d do well but I never realised she’d be the great woman she has become.”

Annamally said: “Yes, I am deaf and faced many challenges during my studies, but I made it through all the way from my first year of studies until now. I can do anything except hear.”

A passion to help seek justice for victims of crime led Annamallay to enrol in criminology studies, and she described her learning experience as overwhelming and daunting.

“It was quite difficult to adjust at the beginning, being in classes full of hearing individuals and also navigating the social aspect of being on campus, as well as finding my own way of communicating with individuals who had not been in close contact with a deaf person before,” she said.

“I am thankful to have made many friends and acquaintances from the disability unit and the university at large, proving deaf people can take up space and easily integrate with individuals from different walks of life.

“Communication may have been a barrier but the willingness of people to learn how to communicate with me was very comforting.”

UKZN spokesperson Normah Zondo said the institution was proud of Annamally. 

“She has not only achieved highly for herself but also for UKZN and the deaf community as a whole. Her academic journey has also given the university critical experience in supporting future deaf students.”

UKZN disability co-ordinator Nevil Balakrishna, who has worked closely with Annamallay since 2016, praised her for being one of only a few deaf young people to gain admission and complete studies at tertiary level in SA.

“Among factors causing low admission rates are the demands of sign language and the low pass rate among deaf learners who are expected to blend into a highly verbal and written space using SA sign language, which is a developing language,” he said.

“The lack of academic signs and fast-paced learning demanded for success presents the deaf student with myriad challenges and barriers.

“This is all the more reason Annamallay’s achievement is highly commendable. She has paved the way for other deaf students who aspire towards higher education and given the deaf community a voice.”

Annamallay has applied to study further and is also looking to step into the working world.

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