Vicki Fourie has overcome many obstacles in her short life, living with 97% hearing loss has not stopped her from pursuing and achieving her dreams.
At the age of two her hearing loss was discovered, "I didn't respond when my family called my name, and after extensive tests it was confirmed that I have 97% hearing loss. We don't know exactly what caused my hearing damage. When I was a baby, I had a high fever (just like Helen Keller) and we think that's what caused my hearing loss," says Vicki.
The news came as a big shock to her parents, but despite the news her parents didn't give up on her. She is very grateful that they reacted this way because it enabled her to learn to speak like a hearing person and to read lips.
Living in a hearing world
Vicki attended an English 'hearing' school even though her home language is Afrikaans.
Growing up she never thought she was different, "I wore hearing aids in both ears and it enabled me to understand the hearing world. I always thought my hearing aids were something that I had to put on in order to hear well, like with reading glasses."
In high school her biggest challenge was larger groups: everyone would speak at once making it difficult for her to follow conversations. It especially hurt when someone would make a joke and everyone would laugh. She still avoids these kinds of situations.
"Today I still have my moments when I feel left out. For instance: I can't speak on the phone, listen to the radio or go to the movies, but I have adapted to my situation. Instead of speaking on the phone, I sms or send emails. Instead of going out to the movies, I rent a DVD and watch it with subtitles. Instead of listening to the radio, I buy the newspaper. All of us are strong survivors with even stronger survival skills. We can learn how to make the best of situations."
For hearing-impaired and deaf people communication and misunderstandings are big barriers between the impaired and the hearing and, sadly, interpreters are very costly. There are times when they are helped and accommodated, but at times they tend to be misused and abused.
"People with disabilities are often looked upon as being stupid when they don't immediately understand or grasp the meaning of a situation or conversation. When I was at school there were teachers who thought I couldn't think for myself, and they would try to do everything for me. I had to work hard at proving them wrong. Looking back I realize that most people feel awkward and they don't really know how to handle the situation. People tend to look down on you when you are different, but I decided at an early age to guard my heart, no matter what."
Vicki does not consider herself a deaf woman, her name means 'Victorious', and she refuses to be a 'victim' to her circumstances and surroundings.
Beauty queen and motivational speaker
In 2009 Vicki was crowned Miss Deaf SA, she also participated in the Miss Deaf International pageant last year in Las Vegas and was crowned 2nd Princess. In July this year Vicki will participate in the Miss Deaf World 2011 which takes place in Prague, Czech Republic.
After she won the Miss Deaf SA title, she had to create opportunities for herself. One of her strengths is public speaking, so she decided that her primary focus as Miss Deaf SA would be as a motivational speaker.
"It is now less than two years later and I have visited over 40 schools all over South Africa. My hope is to win the Miss Deaf world crown so that I can become an international speaker. The Miss Deaf SA title has brought me many opportunities; I have become more mature and confident."
Education is the key to improving the lives of the hearing impaired. Shortly after her hearing loss was diagnosed, Vicky's parents enrolled her at the Carel Du Toit Centre in Cape Town. She is so grateful and say that if it weren't for the program, she wouldn’t have been able to learn to speak and read lips. Thereafter her parents enrolled her into a Christian-based program from America; the Accelerated Christian Education. They furthered her language skills development, and included life orientation and character-building into their programme. She passed matric with flying colours.
"Parents, the best thing you can do for your child is to give him/her the opportunity to learn how to function in a hearing world. With all the technology advancements today, it is possible for a child with hearing loss to learn how to speak and read lips. I managed it – so can they."
Looking towards the future
Vicki has excelled in drama, dancing and writing, and has published over 70 magazine articles nationally and internationally. She is also a part-time model.
As she grew older Vicky realised that life is not only about what she wants, it's also about others. Whenever she meets people and they tell her she has changed their lives, it's at that moment where she knows she is on the right track.
"I would love to write my autobiography one day and be the presenter of my own television show. Later on, I'd like to write and direct movies and maybe even appear in them. I've got big dreams, but I'm taking it step by step."
To contact her for a guest appearance or speaking opportunity: firstname.lastname@example.org, read her news blog: www.vickifourie.blogspot.com, follow her on twitter @vickifourie.
(Leandra Engelbrecht, Health24, April 2011)