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‘Read my lips: believe in yourself’

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King David High School Linksfield matriculant Rachel Miller refused to let her hearing impairment be an obstacle to achieving goals that even she sometimes saw as unreachable.

These included doing well in matric, seeing her hard work bearing fruit, and making her family proud. “Being able to achieve what I wanted made me really proud,” she says. “I never expected to get this far because my hearing impairment is a barrier to an extent. I doubted myself a lot, especially when I was younger. I spent hours in speech therapy, trying to learn to teach myself how to operate in a social environment, in a classroom, and being able to learn as a normal kid.”

Miller says most of her challenges at school arose from her impairment and having to wear hearing aids. “These challenges included struggling to focus in class due to listening fatigue and environmental disturbances. It hindered my ability to complete school work to the best of my ability.

“The school environment is a social area, which left me feeling somewhat overwhelmed,” Miller says. As a result, she had to give herself time to recover before studying at home.

“In spite of my impairment, I managed to overcome these obstacles and achieve beyond my expectations. For example, I struggled a lot in maths, but with hard work and the help of my dedicated teachers, I managed to achieve more than I believed myself capable of.”

Miller says she overcame her challenges through the support of her parents and brothers, including her twin brother at Yeshiva College. “They helped me to relax when I needed to. My twin brother and I relied on each other. It was good to be able to relate to someone about the challenges and all the work we were given.

“My mom helped me with my studies. I would repeat back to her what I had learned. She would help me to create a learning system. My dad and older brother were silent supporters. My brothers would also help me with maths because I struggled with it.”

Miller says her family sacrificed a lot of time to support her. “My brothers took me to speech therapy, the audiologist, wherever I needed to go to be able to do what I’ve done.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was an especially difficult time for Miller as she couldn’t read lips because of the masks. “Lip reading is like a backup for me. I had to put a lot more focus into listening to what the teachers were saying and a lot of the time, I would come home with terrible headaches and feel exhausted. In Grade 10, I used an FM [frequency modulation] system. The teachers would wear a microphone that would direct their voices directly into my ears.”

Miller is grateful for her “amazing” teachers, who “really wanted me to do well”, and for the time she spent with her friends learning and bonding over school work.

She advises students to find people they can rely on to help them push through matric. “Show you can get through it even though it seems difficult with the challenges in your way. Believe in yourself, and don’t be afraid to get help when you need it.”

Miller obtained three distinctions and will be studying for a Bachelor of Commerce in Information Management this year or a general Bachelor of Arts.

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