She might be physically disabled but that does not mean Shirley Keoagile is not able to do her day to day work especially in pursuing her roles in leadership. Keoagile is deaf, which means that she cannot hear any sound in her surroundings and she has to rely on people to help her. She can only understand if you talk to her while facing her, which means that she lip reads.
But that has not really stopped her from achieving her dreams or being in relationships just like any other normal woman that do not have the same glitches that she has. She talks with a very quirky tiny voice and with her being the woman that she is definitely it commands attention whenever she opens her mouth to speak because the people in her surrounding will not be aware of her situation. She is the Coordinator of the Federation of People living with disabilities and she is a very outspoken person who her voice is always heard across mainstream media.
She was born as a normal child just like most people, which shows that it can happen to anyone. Her parents accepted her situation. When growing up a person interacts with a lot of people and that is where someone experiences challenges. She said for her to relate well to people they should first understand her problems and her situation because a situation like that turns someone s life around.
With the many ignorant and judgemental people around you can imagine how it felt for Keoagile growing up like that. Keoagile's dream was to be a doctor, but because of having a problem with communication that did not happen. She comes from a family of five and she made sure that she does everything so that she succeeds in life. She was diagnosed with hearing impairment when she was in primary school.
The problem that she faced when she was in school was that before people can see her as a person they saw her as a deaf person, the stereotypes that she still goes through even now. Now that she has grown up to be the woman that she is, she is very passionate about advocacy for people living with disabilities. She said disability organisations and the parents are there to advocate, but that can never be enough.
Keoagile said people should understand that they did not choose to be the way they are. As people living with disabilities they have barriers and their level of level of participation in the community is also limited. She said people should stop referring to them as angry and bitter people. All they want is to represent themselves not the other way round because no one will ever understand what they are going through.
They want to be involved in the decision making process. She gave an example of representation in parliament which she said is not even there at all but it would be far much better if they had someone to represent them who is in the same situation as them. They only get irate because people are not listening to them, and the service providers are not catering for them. “No one who is not disabled can ever understand what a disabled person wants, they might think that they know what we want and they understand what we go through but it can never be the same,” she said.
She advocated for the government to be the first one to remove barriers between people living with disabilities and the community. She said in whatever that she does she is driven by the passion because she wants to see a Botswana that is better for everyone including the people with disabilities. She said the moment people talk about their disability before they talk about them they have already created a barrier.
“We want to see Botswana move forward and this can only happen when the voices of people with disabilities are heard,” she said. She said another problem is that many people do not even know how to define a disability, which definitely contributes to the stigma and the stereotypes that they face in their day to day lives.
Of course there are policies in place, but Keogaile said those are not implemented as they are still not included in many forums. She is also involved with the Paralympics Association of Botswana (PASSOBO) and because of her busy schedule she never really has time for herself. She is very passionate about rights of people with disabilities. On the harsh things that have been said to her in regard to her disability Keoagile said people like asking her questions that are pointless and also question her leadership skills because of her disability.
She said even though their families can be accepting they always have relatives that do not even know how to associate with them. She made example of an aunt that she can communicate well with other than any person. The other problem that they face especially as women with disabilities is in regard to dating because some men only want to date them in secret, but they would not want to be seen with them at shopping malls or doing things together just the way regular couples do. Some people just go out with them because they want to take advantage of them knowing that they are disabled.
To deal with this they have engagements meetings as women living with disabilities so that they can talk about how they address those issues in their homes. She said some people even think that they cannot able to have kids or they won't be able to have normal kids which is very false. She referred to the way that she speaks as the most challenge that she faces and the most thing that people infuriate her with. They will be asking whether she has flu or whether is indeed her voice.
She said one other thing that really hurts her when done by professional people is when they invite her to meetings and then not bring along someone to translate in sign language because that just shows how thoughtless they are. She said people should stop feeling pity for them but understand that they are just human beings and rather build a relationship with them in order to understand them better. “We should have a relationship and people should be willing to know the kind of people that we are. We want to see a Botswana that is inclusive for all,” she said.