Writer: Phelisa Jela

My name is Phelisa Jela I am originally from Mdantsane Eastern Cape, but I now live in Johannesburg Roodepoort. I was diagnosed with Post-Polio at an age of 3yrs old. For me being physically challenged does not mean being unable. It simply means that I have extra challenges that I need to overcome than those of an able bodied person. Growing up I had to use my knees and hands to walk, I had to crawl till the age of 9yrs old where afterwards my parents were advised about getting me Orthopaedic shoes, callipers and crutches. Unlike many or some people with disabilities I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to go to school and get an education. My parents fortunately did not hide me in the house and lock me away.

I read a lot of stories whereby people with disabilities were hidden from the world by their families some with good intentions than the others, because they felt that if they are not out there nothing and no will hurt them or even make a mockery of them. Some their intentions were bad because they felt embarrassed by their disability. Hiding their disabled children, most parents and families don’t realised that they are depriving that child education and a chance of being independent and face up with all the challenges that comes with being a disabled child.

I completed my matric in 1985 and in 1986 I went to Tertiary where I obtained a qualification in the Human Resources field. That was now a stage where real life challenges of my life as a disabled person started. The first challenge I was faced with was transport. I remember one time I so badly wanted to go to class and it was raining cats and dogs in Eastern Cape and at home there was no car. I stayed at home licking my wounds with the hope that the rain will stop as the roads were slippery when it was raining. At times I had to skip not only classes but exams too.

After graduating at Border Technicon, I landed myself a job as a data capturing at company X. That as well came with its own challenges because Company X wasn’t accessible and user friendly to accommodate my disability. They rented offices at some building and their offices were upstairs. I remember sometimes the lift will stop working and I will have to go back home for the day.

Having addressed the matter with my employer the response I received was that “remember it’s our first time to hire someone like you and we really don’t know how to handle your condition”. There was really no condition here all I needed was an office downstairs. But I understand them because during those days people were not as informed about disability as they are today. With time and awareness things have changed at the workplace even though there are a few companies that still need to review their disability policies.  Having faced these challenges at the workplace I took it upon myself to help and change the mind-set of employers employing People living with Disability. I am a member of an Employment Equity at the workplace representing people  with disabilities.

Being Phelisa on a personal level

Phelisa is married with 2 kids both boys (18 & 13) I am a very social personal. I go out there and be with others and I don’t deprive myself of the happiness I deserve. I remember when I started dating. The question that came to mind was whether I should date Disabled guys or not. I needed to believe that I am worthy of unconditional love so I dated both. Each failed relationship gave me a clue on who I wanted in my life and also each failed relationship taught me to love myself first before expecting the next person to love me. Now I am living my life like its golden. Disability need not be an obstacle to success and to living your life to the fullest.

Leave a Reply