Soweto company upskills deaf community for inclusion in the economy
13 Dec 2020
By Mokgadi Maponya
As South Africa marked National Disability Rights Awareness Month between November 3 and December3, this was also an opportunity to celebrate individuals that are breaking stereotypes and overcoming preconceptions regarding disabilities. One of the themes for 2020 was women with disabilities.
Deaf Empowerment Firm (DEF) is a social enterprise based in Orlando West, Soweto that aims to change mindsets, to educate and raise awareness about people with hearing impairments. The firm has been running for four years.
DEF’s programmes encompass learnerships, internships, workplace exposure as well as enterprise development.
Alex Msitshana (52), a human rights activist and entrepreneur with a passion for people’s development, is the founder and managing director of DEF.
In her 30s she became increasingly ill and was diagnosed with HIV, leading to a TB infection the effects of which caused bilateral auditory nerve damage which caused her to become deaf.
“My journey for emancipation led to my absorption and integration into the deaf community and this is where I came face to face with the enormous challenges peoplewith hearing impairments encounter when attempting to access employment opportunities,” Msitshana says.
She knew that she had to play a part in working towards inclusive development of deaf people. This led to the birth of DEF whose mission is to transform the economic empowerment landscape for the deaf community and ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities in the South African economy and society at large.
“We have four permanent staff and we bring in an additional four people on a contract basis. We employ people with disabilities. We make our revenue through our very competitive fees structure for services we provide to our clients.
“Word of mouth has been a great way of marketing both our programmes and our services within the deaf community,” Msitshana says.
In its four years of operating, DEF has empowered a little more than 300 deaf people in its various programmes.
Lindiwe Dladla (40), Msitshana’s interpreter, says that working with the entrepreneur has been very inspirational and very motivating to strive to do more for the deaf community.
“What I’ve learned from Alex is resilience. She never gives up on anything no matter how difficult it is, and is very determined,” Dladla says.
A DEF employee, Tebello Khatiti (31), says that he first heard about DEF in 2017, and started volunteering at the organisation in April 2019. He was given a permanent position in January 2020 and he now worksas the office administration assistant.
“DEF has helped me because I am able to assist my family financially and I am able to help other deaf people who are looking for opportunities,” Khatiti says.