Ms Voloshni Annamallay
Ms Voloshni Annamallay

‘I am able. You are able.’ That is the rallying call from Ms Voloshni Annamallay, UKZN’s first deaf graduate, to the youth in South Africa’s hard of hearing community.

Breaking through tremendous barriers during her academic journey, Annamallay is a role model for all folk with disabilities who dream of attaining a higher education qualification.

‘You can do it, nothing is stopping you from what you aspire to become or do, you must simply believe that you can and make and take the necessary steps to achieve your goals,’ she said. ‘Yes, I am deaf and faced many challenges during my studies but I made it through all the way from 2016 until now,’ said Annamallay, who graduated with an Honours Degree in Criminology and Forensic Studies. ‘I can do anything except hear!’

Annamallay is the first deaf person to acquire undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications at UKZN using South African Sign Language as a means of communication.

UKZN’s Executive Director: Corporate Relations, Ms Normah Zondo, said the institution was extremely proud of Annamallay and her highly commendable achievement. ‘Annamallay 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.’

Annamallay’s learning at UKZN has involved communication through South African Sign Language. Supported by a note-taker and an interpreter, she successfully completed her qualifications in the required time.

UKZN Disability Coordinator, Mr Nevil Balakrishna, who has worked closely with Annamallay since the start of her academic journey in 2016 praised her for being one of only a few deaf young people to gain admission and complete studies at tertiary level in South Africa. ‘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 South African Sign Language which is a developing language. The lack of academic signs and fast-paced learning demanded for success presents the deaf student with myriad challenges and barriers,’ said Balakrishna.

‘This is all the more reason why 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 that provides greater impact to the motto of the disability rights movement: “Nothing About Us, Without Us”.’

UKZN Disability Support Unit head, Mr Amith Ramballie said the University is highly supportive of students with disabilities and had made great strides as a leader in this area. ‘We support a large cohort of students with diverse disabilities to ensure that they enjoy inclusion, access, and participation in all the offerings of the University. During a South African Sign Language Interpreter’s Seminar held in 2021, interpreters from all over the country acknowledged the significant strides made by UKZN in transitioning the service during the COVID-19 pandemic into one of the most progressive in the country.’

Annamallay said she chose to study Criminology so that she could help provide justice for victims of crime in South Africa. ‘I have a vision for a brighter and safer country for all people and I will work towards making that vision a reality.’

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.

‘I am thankful to have made many friends and acquaintances from the Disability Unit and the University at large, proving that 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 Senior Criminology lecturer, Professor Nirmala Gopal congratulated Annamallay on behalf of the School of Applied Human Sciences. ‘We hope she will serve as an ambassador to attract students with similar profiles to enrol in Criminology and Forensic Studies.’

Words: Sejal Desai desaisej@ukzn.ac.za

Photograph:  Supplied