This story previously appeared in the print edition of Drum Magazine.
When she told her family she wanted to learn how to use a computer, they didn’t bat an eyelid – even though she can’t use her hands.
Despite being born with spastic cerebral palsy, Katlego Mkhonza’s family didn’t treat her any differently from her siblings, so they honoured her request. “My family respected my dreams and pushed me to excel even when they knew it would be difficult. They motivated me and started researching ways I would be able to achieve this without the use of my hands,” Katlego tells us. With the help of a dentist, they were able to design a denture fitted with a stick that would allow Katlego, then 11, to type on a computer. “I soon taught myself how to type on a touchscreen cellphone using my lips,” she says proudly. “Today I’m able to type documents on my computer without any help from my family.”
Through her Living Able Foundation, she’s now on a mission to help others like her. Spastic cerebral palsy prevents the normal development of motor function and in Katlego’s case it means she doesn’t have the function of her hands, has impaired speech and is wheelchair-bound. Yet the 28-year-old from KwaThema in the East Rand has never let her condition stop her from doing anything.
Katlego was barely out of her teens when she founded Living Able Foundation, an organisation she describes as a mouthpiece for young people living with disabilities. “I decided to start the foundation after identifying how people with special needs were treated differently by their families and society,” she says. “A lot of public transportation doesn’t cater to people with special needs.
“They’re not designed to accommodate our chairs and other walking apparatus. Some of the public facilities don’t cater for our physical needs even though the law states they should. “Through the foundation we help place children in schools that cater to their needs after doing proper assessments. We help mothers apply for social grants and offer counselling and motivational support for new mothers of children with special needs.”
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Katlego’s mom, Sonto Mkhonza, knows just how important it is to have a support structure. When Katlego was diagnosed at nine months old, Sontowas shocked. “I went for two other medical opinions and they all confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis,” she says. “I was a young mother, aged 25, and still at university. I couldn’t see how I would be able to take of a child with special needs.” Sonto got the help she needed when a physician recommended she enrol her daughter at a school in Ekurhuleni for children with special needs.
Now mom and daughter pay it forward by helping other families like theirs. “We are teaching these young people there’s nothing wrong with them,” Katlego says. While her foundation currently only operates in Gauteng, she has plans to reach other provinces. “My parents taught me never to feel small or allow anyone to make me feel uncomfortable,” she says. “I feel every child deserves that love and acceptance.”