DIANELLA resident Vanessa Vlajkovic has become the first deafblind Western Australian to enter university.
The 19-year-old, who was named WA’s 2016 young person of the year, has signed up to study journalism at Edith Cowan, but admits she’s not sure whether it’ll take off as a career.
Ms Vlajkovic says she’s got humble ambitions at heart; hoping for a “normal-ish life” and to be able to communicate better with her non-signing family.
She was born blind and her hearing deteriorated when she turned seven as a result of auditory nerve damage.
By 16, hearing aids were ineffective so she tossed them out and learned Tactile Auslan (sign language using touch), which made high school a confusing and lonely experience.
“Just the restrictions on freedom — having no friends, it was so lonely,” she recalls. “I almost moved schools to be with deaf students but people kept persuading me to stay where I was, so I battled it out.” Ms Vlajkovic says.
Life took a turn for the better after high school when she embraced being deafblind as part of her identity.
She communicates with a device that converts text and email into braille, and doesn’t think deafness will be a barrier.
“The hardest is not being able to communicate with my family, they don’t sign,” Ms Vlajkovic said.
“I don’t want a piece of metal on either side of my head when I have a beautiful, intimate language I can use instead…I feel as though it would be unnatural for me and I am unwilling to go through surgery and many months of adapting to new sounds because it just isn’t me.”
When she’s not staying up late procrastinating on assignments, Ms Vlajkovic tumbles at West Coast Fury as a cheerleader.
“I am the flyer in my group stunt, which means I get tossed around in the air and perform different tricks. It’s exhilarating and my worries go right out the window the second I cross the gym’s threshold.”
by TRILOKESH CHANMUGAM