Blind eye no hindrance to Mischke

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Mischke Scheepers was diagnosed with a genetic eye condition as a child, but is reaching for her full potential one goal at a time.
Mischke Scheepers was diagnosed with a genetic eye condition as a child, but is reaching for her full potential one goal at a time.

Being blind in one eye has not stopped a 31-year-old social worker at Child Welfare SA Helderberg from pursuing her dreams both academically and in sport, as she continues to strive towards personal accomplishments and inspire others.

Mischke Scheepers, now a Strand resident, is the middle of three sisters and was diagnosed with myopia at birth – a genetic eye condition characterised by near sightedness and caused by oval shaped eye balls.

Today she has proudly obtained a degree, the first in her family to do so, and her love for sport has allowed her to play goal ball (a sport designed specifically for people with visual impairments). She also played blind cricket, went on to pursue a coaching role in goal ball and has also qualified as a referee.

“There are two highlights that stand out for me. The first was when the International Blind Sports Federation (Ibsa) came to South Africa to give a short course on coaching and refereeing goal ball. It was amazing to see how many people in SA are interested in continuing this sport and are involved in it,” Mischke said.

“The second was when I was selected to be a referee for goal ball at the SA School Summer Sports in 2022. The talent, motivation and overall atmosphere of the children was amazing to witness. My hope is to one day see them representing SA in the Paralympic sport.”

Mishcke, who also served as secretary of Maties Parasport during her studies at Stellenbosch University, has come a long way since her diagnosis. She explained that in her family they have degenerative myopia, which is characterised by near sightedness, low vision, retina detachment and progressive vision loss.

a lot to take in

“Our father was diagnosed as well as his mother, as well as my sister. Thus, each generation, the possibility of it affecting the opposite sex is higher,” she pointed out.

“At age seven I had my first of many operations to save my retina. Unfortunately, the last operation on my left eye was not successful and left me blind. Due to complications, my cornea was also scarred which caused a blue-like discolouration. Myopia affects both my eyes and the right eye works overtime to compensate as I’m blind in the left eye. When I was old enough to understand, the school healthcare worker talked to me about my condition and the possibility of my children having the same condition. This is a lot to take in as a pre-teen.”

Growing up with an overprotective mother was frustrating at times, Mischke admitted, as were the restrictions put on her from doing all sorts of activities due to risks involved.

“Growing up with an eye that was a different colour than the other one, children would make rude comments or make fun of me. As a child, you internalise this and start to feel less confident about yourself and the way you look. I would always ask my parents to buy me sunglasses to hide my eyes. You grow up with that feeling of being less beautiful than others; being weird, being ugly . . . As I grew older, I realised that being different is not the problem, but rather the education around my condition and why my eye looks different.

“I noticed that when children asked about my eye, parents or adults would quiet them, or say if they are naughty it will happen to them. Children are naturally inquisitive; by asking, they genuinely want to know. When I started to explain why I have a blue eye, they understood and were less likely to make fun of me. I started to own my condition and educate people if they wanted to know more.”

The driving factor for her was the support from family and friends, Mishcke added.

eye sight has improved

“I managed to find a way around my disability. If something does not work out, I find a different way. A contributing factor to this is that I am part of family of people with the same condition, so we would exchange ideas,” she related.

“For instance, the price tags in grocery stores are very small. If I want to see the price of something on the lowest shelf, I sit down in the middle of the isle to see. If I cannot read on the menu behind the patrons at a restaurant, I ask them to explain to me. I have mostly come across people who are very friendly and accommodating.

“I was told I would never be able to get a driving licence because of my condition. When I went to the optometrist late in 2018, she said my eyesight had improved – a rare occurrence, especially because I have degenerative myopia. However, I see well enough to get a driver’s licence, which I got in less than six months.”

During her studies, Mischke also made full use of the Stellenbosch University Disability Unit, which helped her immensely.

“They converted the reading material to formats that made it possible for me to read it on the computer. They also provided me with Zoom Text, which magnified the text on the computer. Furthermore, the university and the social work department was very accommodating when it came to examinations and tests, generally making my experience as a student as comfortable as possible.”

being able to deliver services

For Mischke, her ability to address large crowds is one of her biggest accomplishments. “I was always so self-conscious about my blind eye that it prevented me from being confident in certain scenarios. In time and with practise, I am way more confident speaking up now,” she said. I recently got a contact lens that is the same colour as my right eye, which also gave me more confidence. However, I am not less confident without it.”

Currently working at Child Welfare SA Helderberg with high case loads, Mischke enjoys being able to deliver services to the communities that need assistance.

“I enjoy educating the community about our role in society and our mission to protect and enhance the holistic wellbeing and development of children,” she said. “When you have a success story, it warms your heart knowing that a child overcame and excelled despite their experiences, or a family is reunified and doing amazing without your assistance. I enjoy working towards a society that will not need the assistance of a welfare organisation.”

Asked what words of advice she has for others with similar obstacles, Mishcke quipped: “I didn’t get to study straight out of school and it took me six years to complete a four-year degree. A quote that I believe in is, “the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese”. For me, it means that it is okay to take your time and learn from others before pursuing something.

“I would not have been where I am without the positive and supportive people in my life. Therefore, I believe in surrounding yourself with people who encourage you to do better, to keep going until you reach your goal. Believe in yourself. Believe that you are extraordinary and your current situation does not always determine your final destination.”

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