Michelle Botha

Current Job: 
Funding Developer and PRO at The Cape Town Society for the Blind.
Do not disclose your disability on your CV – wait to receive an interview offer and then disclose - I learnt this the hard way!

How I obtained my current position:

Primarily through networking: attending disability sector events, meeting people, and marketing myself.

How my qualifications relate to my work:

My Master’s research focused on women with disabilities, and therefore my knowledge of disability theory and policy particularly in the SA context. Indirectly: writing skills, speaking/presenting skills, problem solving skills and time management.

Skills that have contributed to my success:

The ability to write and speak well.

Day-to-day activities:

Meetings with and presentations to donors, writing proposals and reports, assisting in event organisation, writing press releases and giving press interviews, researching new funding opportunities.

Best & most challenging parts of my job:

The best part is being able to have an impact in SA’s disability sector and to work as part of a team committed to the empowerment of people with disabilities. The most challenging is balancing such a large portfolio.

How to identify disability-friendly employers:

Approach disability sector organisations to guide you. The fact that the concept “disability-friendly” has to exist is sad. In a perfect world we would all be given an equal chance based on merit but this is not the case. To be honest – the “disability-friendly” jobs offered by most companies will be way below your potential as someone with a tertiary degree. In my case I didn’t look for “disability friendly” companies because I’d had bad experiences with a company which completely disregarded my skills and saw me only as a tick in their employment equity box. I am obviously also very privileged to work at a disability sector organisation who are sensitive to my needs and who have access to the assistive resources I need.

How can graduates with disabilities fare equally well in the job market:

Do not disclose your disability on your CV – wait to receive an interview offer and then disclose - I learnt this the hard way! Work through an organisation (like The Cape Town Society for the Blind) that assists disabled people in finding jobs. Be prepared for rejections but persevere – the stats are bad e.g. only 3% of blind and visually impaired people in SA are employed. Know what your needs are and be ready to answer questions about how they can be easily met. Be ready to field annoying questions like, “how blind are you?”

Successful coping with disability on campus:

As soon as I was honest with myself about what I couldn’t do and accepted the help I was offered I coped a lot better. The Disability Service at UCT are brilliant, so use them. In addition, I found I had to be stricter with myself about time management but this has been an advantage in the long run.

About approaching your own career development journeys: 

Be open minded but have a definite idea of where you want to be, for example, I knew I wanted to be in the disability sector but was open to where and what I would end up doing in that sector.

How to raise above labels:

In my experience your disabled identity will limit you most, when you deny it. It is hard work to pretend to be able to do things that you simply cannot do. The most liberating (and scary) time of my life was when I began to self-identify as a disabled person.