Blind computer scientist capped

2016-03-15 07:46
Willem Venter (Stefan Els, Supplied to News24)

Willem Venter (Stefan Els, Supplied to News24)

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Cape Town - After dreaming as a child of making a career of problem solving and analysis, Stellenbosch University (SU) graduate Willem Venter was on Monday officially given the tools to make this dream a reality.

The blind student was awarded his degree in computer science from Maties while his proud mother, aunt and uncle looked on, and is in the process of finalising his appointment as a programmer for a software company.

Hours after being capped, Venter, 27, said over the past seven years he has gone from feeling out of place and homesick to being an independent student who has made lifelong friends in the first mainstream institution he has attended.


He was raised in a home where he was encouraged not to allow his lack of sight to stand in the way of his dreams.

"They were also realistic, but always pointed out that you don't know what you can do until you try," the graduate said.

He always dreamed of entering a technical field and initially aspired to becoming an engineer, he explained.

"But this involved technical drawings and as a blind person I would have run into difficulties," Venter, who was born blind, said.

Computer science was, however, not without challenges of its own.

"My material was accessible thanks to a screen reader, but mathematics had access issues as there was no way to translate it into a format I could read."

A tutor helped Venter over this hurdle.

While he said he chooses to see the positives rather than focus on difficulties, lecturers were also sometimes not open to adapting.

"Some were just not open to accommodating me, because they wanted to continue things the way they had always been done and that's that. But I solved that with a combination of stubbornness and diplomacy."

Originally from Worcester, relocating to Stellenbosch to live in a residence was a big move, he said.

"In the beginning I was very homesick and out of place. But people were friendly and accommodating and I adapted quickly into res culture."

Negative attitudes

While most students were friendly and accepting, others were less welcoming.

"I find their negative attitudes annoying. I think it stems more from ignorance, not meanness," Venter said.

"If I wanted to be a pilot without being able to see, I would be worried too. But to do computer science, one should just be able to think out of the box and apply reasoning."

Venter was also part of the university's choir and played goalball for SU. Goalball is a team sport for visually impaired players in which a ball containing bells is thrown at a goal.

He is currently the captain of the provincial goalball team.

Venter said he looks forward to applying what he has learned in the past seven years in the workplace.

"I enjoy a challenge, so I look forward to the next one."

Read more on:    stellenbosch university  |  cape town  |  education  |  good news

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