Interview: Karen Smit
At the age of four years old, Karen Smit was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and she shares her story with us.
Karen Smit is a Principal Specialist and has worked at Vodacom for 23 years.
1. Could you please give us a brief overview of your disability and the challenges that it brings to your daily life.
I was four years old when I contracted Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. The disease affects every single joint in my body and I lived with intense pain growing up as a child. Prior to the age of thirteen years, I spent more time in the hospital than at home – undergoing procedures, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy. At thirteen years old I struggled to walk as my hip joints were badly impacted - I then had bilateral hip replacements, which enabled me to walk again and experience the full quality of life. Although my condition went into remission at fifteen years old, the disease left me with a mobility impairment as all my joints became deformed and stiff. I walk permanently with crutches and I still cannot do physical activities such as climbing stairs and walking far and going on hikes. Some daily activities are difficult and take time to do – such as getting up from a low chair or putting on my shoes. Getting up every day continues to be a blessing though as my wonderful husband assists me to get ready for the day. Fortunately, my disability has never impacted my ability to work and I have a successful career. Whilst excelling in my role leading and driving the inclusion of disabled persons, I thrive working in a fast-paced and high performing ICT company.
2.How has Vodacom as a company adapted to assist you with your disability?
The company has been amazing in that buildings are accessible and I have no problem getting around independently. I also have my own printer in my office which means that I do not have to walk far to go to a communal printer. Furthermore, my lovely colleagues make and bring my tea and coffee to my office – as I am not able to carry hot drinks whilst walking with crutches.
3.Which technologies have helped you and other people with disabilities, and how?
Features that car manufacturers have implemented benefit me greatly such as automatic vehicles and vehicles with a push start button – these functions help me to drive my own car. I love using my smartphone as it has become my “own personal assistant”, in that I can take it to meetings as it is easy to carry around – no need to carry a laptop. I make notes on my phone, read documents, and send e-mails quickly and easily.
4. What do you wish able-bodied people did more of / less of for people who have a disability – at home, socially, and in the workplace?
I wish that non-disabled person would realize that disabled persons are not lesser persons as they are also human beings with aspirations and wanting to live life to the fullest. Disabled persons have so much to offer employers if given an opportunity and I wish that line managers would educate themselves to understand that disabled employees are a huge asset for any team (loyalty, hard workers, good problem solvers). Refrain from judging physically disabled persons and rather engage the person if you want to know something about their disability instead of making assumptions.
5. Who are some of your role models - who have a disability?
My role model is Caroline Casey (she is visually impaired) of the Valuable 500 initiative, as she actively advocates for businesses to embrace inclusion. My fellow disabled colleagues are also my role models as most of them give 150% in their jobs despite fighting daily challenges.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15% of the world's population has a disability and only 48% of working-age people living with a disability are employed. These stats show that it is critical that companies become more inclusive and embrace diversity in all its forms. This is why Vodacom has made it our mission to build an inclusive culture where everyone is respected, can be themselves and strives to be their best.
Click here for more information about the benefits of working at Vodacom or here to read another interview of someone from Vodacom living with a disability.