Dyslexia no hurdle for NMMU graduate

APRIL 14, 2016

“You can’t use your disability as an excuse.”

That’s what Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University graduate Duncan Monks’s mother told him when she was fighting to keep him in a mainstream high school – and they are words he continues to live by.

“Wherever you are in life, you have to prove yourself. If you don’t find a way to make it happen, it never will. You’ve got to take that first step.”

This week, the 26-year-old ambassador for disability graduates with his BCom degree in Business and Information Systems.

It’s a remarkable achievement, considering that Monks is profoundly dyslexic: when he attempts to read or write, the letters and numbers morph before his eyes.

Despite pressure from the Education Department for Monks to move to a special school, Monks passed matric at Theodor Herzl, a mainstream high school, with the help of scribes and extra time for tests.

Getting into NMMU was a dream come true, and he is delighted to have attained his degree. “It’s finally a step into the next phase of my life – it’s an opportunity to do something more.”

On Monday, he starts a much-anticipated eight-month internship at Business Connexion (BCX), a leading ICT service provider.

Monks, who has long been campaigning for equal opportunities for those with disabilities, said this organisation truly showed disability support, as 50% of this year’s internship positions have been reserved for candidates with disabilities – much higher than what the Employment Equity Act requires.

“The Employment Equity Act stipulates that only 2% of the work force must be people with disabilities … Many companies struggle just to meet the required 2% which means many of our disability members don’t find jobs.”

Having too much fun in first year at university saw Monks failing his exams. His disappointed parents then insisted he get a job to help co-fund the rest of his studies. He rose to the challenge, working three jobs – one as a barman and two as a waiter.

Getting serious about his studies also forced him to take a more serious approach to life. “I got the opportunity in my second year [in 2012] to become chairman of Fusion [the student organisation advocating for students with disabilities]. It was finally the opportunity to do for somebody else what was done for me.”

He then became a member of the SRC, and made a point of encouraging other disabled students to be honest about their disabilities. “There’s no point in being shy about your disability. It’s who you are. The worst thing to do is to hide from it and pretend it doesn’t exist. You’re never going to get as far as you can if you do that.”

“He was an exceptional role model and ambassador for disability at NMMU,” said Disability Unit head Iona Wannenburg.

“Duncan was instrumental in establishing the Transformation and Disability Portfolio on the SRC platform … and was an advocate for students with disabilities.”

Wannenburg said he also provided valuable input at meetings such as the Disability Advisory Forum, presented constructive input into the Disability Policy and minimum standards and norms documentation on Student Housing, and was a volunteer during orientation and registration events organised by the Disability Unit.

Monks was also very involved with the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso), and today is running for PR Councillor for the DA, for the Bay. If he is successful, he will continue to fight for the rights of disabled people within the Bay. He also wants to teach the community how to work with disabled individuals.

Asked whether his dyslexia ever gets him down, Monks said: “I’ve known nothing else in my life. It’s a big part of who I am – I wouldn’t have been the person I am without it.”

He is also very grateful for all those who have supported him, particularly his parents, Patrick and Maria. “I’ve had great support from my family and friends, many members of the government and the university who have supported me.

“My success so far is because of what other people did for me, to get me here. Due to this, I feel I owe a debt to society. That’s why I’ve got involved in at least trying to reform disability policy within South Africa.”

  • Duncan Monks would like to assist others with disabilities, and can be reached on 082 897 8897.

Image: BCom graduate Duncan Monks has fought for the rights of disabled people throughout his studies – and plans to continue to do so.