Women Changing South Africa
Juan Bornman (51)
Speech-language therapist and professor. Director of the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication — University of Pretoria

In many countries across the world, girl children with disability still have fewer opportunities to attend school than girls without disabilities and also fewer opportunities than boys with disability.

Professor Juan Bornman is the director of the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and a professor at the University of Pretoria (UP). She has a special interest in the development of a functional approach to disability and communication rehabilitation. Her recent work has focused on the use of augmentative and alternative communication strategies to ensure equal social justice and address the rights of people with severe communication disabilities.

Bornman has published several books and International Scientific Institute accredited papers — more than 41 at the last count — and one special edition journal. She also represents South Africa on the board of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

When asked what inspires her, she replies: “I believe that in the disability field, the researcher can never be a passive onlooker. It requires commitment and passion for ‘gently shaking the world’ as described so aptly by Gandhi. Therefore, my research is framed in human rights-based approach towards communication rehabilitation with a sustainable, contextually relevant framework. I also do not believe in ‘ivory tower’ research, and hence maintain a close contact with various disability organisations and provide direct services to many individuals with severe communication disabilities.”

She is inspired by people who live fulfilled lives in spite of their disabilities and is touchingly humble when asked how it feels to be recognised for this award.

“I am very surprised at this recognition, it was totally unexpected,” she says. “My work has never been about me. It is about creating change and making a difference to one of the most vulnerable groups in our society — individuals with severe communication disability. What I do on a daily basis is my passion and my calling and this recognition makes me feel humbled.”

That said, she doesn’t believe that the dialogue about women with disability has changed and that their rights are still violated.

“The dialogue around women with disability need to change. They need to become part of mainstream discussions around women issues. As long as they remain silent and invisible, they will remain on the fringes of society, increasing their vulnerability.”

— Tamsin Oxford

Facebook: @centreforaac