Every second year in Primary School the department of education had a health official who would come to do a health check on every child to see that we were meeting our developmental milestones. In the junior years the boys and girls were lined up in our underwear to have our turn being prodded and poked. Once it
was on the day that I did not wear a vest …. How embarrassing for me … and I felt so sorry for the boys having their check up in front of the girls.
Eyes and ears were tested regularly which, in itself, was a good thing (when we could keep our tunics on). The problem for me came in when I learned that I had a retinal degenerative disease in both eyes. My parents got me, and my 2 siblings, the best help from eye specialists, but there was nothing more to be done for us medically. We just did our best to cope as well as we could in mainstream schooling. The teache
rs were very helpful, my parents kept in communication with the school, but the school nurse was a differen
t lady every time. I got tired of explaining that, “yes” I did know that I was very short-sighted and, “Yes” it was a serious condition. By the time I was in grade 6, I didn’t have the energy to discuss the whole thing from scratch. I quite enjoyed and also pitied the shocked concern from a well-meaning professional. In order to save them the trauma of breaking terrible news to a child and to save a very intense conversation, I just learned the eye chart off by heart. I got the giggles when I had to pretend to read and when she pointed to another place on the chart my friends had to whisper the first letter so that I would know which line to recite.
In hindsight I don’t think this was helpful for accurate statistics for the health or education department
….in fact, a bit short sighted …but fun! I am however grateful for the schools that accommodated me in what is now called inclusive education.
In Matric many of us went to apply for teaching or nursing because it was a good way to get a study bursary and you were granted a job for 4 years afterwards. We went as a group to the department of health and li
ned up fully clad with our jars of ‘apple juice’ , said ,”Aaah” and did the ear and eye test with the same school nurse that had visited us. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the eye chart, so although I was fit and bright, I was denied access because I was disabled. I wasn’t’ put out about it then and so, with some scrimping and scraping from my parents, a financial windfall and a scholarship, I went on to do my BA Hons. It was only after working part time in a private school for a couple of years that my headmaster fought, on principle (or should I say principal), to get the Department to recognise me as a qualified teacher. I was grateful for the justice of his action.
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