“I rely on Braille technology as much as oxygen.” These are powerful words from student Ness Vlajkovic, a 21-year-old who can hardly hear or see.
When she was just seven years old, Ness took charge of her first BrailleNote, a handheld computer for Braille users which enables her to communicate. This helped fuel her love of words, and to realise her ambition to study journalism at university.
Ness has finished her first degree and is now moving onto a master’s degree at Curtin University.
Her sight is extremely limited as she was born with optic atrophy and she started using hearing aids at the age of seven. As her deafness became more severe, she ditched them. With the help of our Assistive Technology team, she switched from oral to tactile sign language as her form of communication.
She lives with a married couple who have a toddler and they’ve known each other for five years.
“This works well, it’s a great relationship, but I’m not at home much as I have a busy life,” she says.
“Aside from studying, I’m on various committees. I’m the vice-president of Deafblind Australia. I also sit on Powerhouse Dreams, Deafblind Australia, People with Disabilities Board and the Youth Disability Advocacy Network.”
The Youth Disability Advocacy Network exists to give a voice to young people who have disabilities. Ness explains about the work she does at workshops across WA.
“I love this organisation, it’s like my second home and it empowers young Australians,” she adds.
My degree was only made possible by the use of Braille, assistive technology and my own personal Ness team.Ness Vlajkovic
This year Ness hopes to achieve a personal best – she loves travelling and is planning an impressive nine trips away.
“I grew up in Dianella and I call Perth my home, but I never stay here for long. These aren’t all pleasure holidays, some are conferences and events.” Ness plays down her many accomplishments.
Ness is a former ‘WA Young Person of the Year’ and ‘Miss Deaf Australia’. While she has many hobbies, one is more unusual than most.
“I’m a competitive cheerleader, I’ve been cheer-leading for four years. It not only relaxes me but it keeps my muscles taught. It’s a ton of fun!” School years.
“I’m a bit of a dare-devil, I’ve done a skydive jump too.”
While Ness is embracing adult life, her primary and high school years were tough.
“I have to be 100% honest, life at primary school was not the best, there was discrimination and loneliness. I had dual sensory loss so I didn’t have many friends.”
“What I did get at school was an education – so it served its purpose and got me to university.”
Advice for life
While Ness is keen not to dwell on the past, her current work with young people means she’s in a good position to offer advice. So what would she say to those who may be facing challenges?
Don’t doubt yourself…ever. You may have a disability but don’t think for a moment that you can’t achieve to the same standard. Have faith in yourself and ignore the haters.Ness Vlajkovic
“Secondly, be resilient. Don’t let failure stop you. If you don’t get it, it’s because you are human so keep up with patience and perseverance. Life is a roller coaster, so hold on for the ride and hold on with a smile.”
“Lastly, have a support network. I have a crew of people who help. You need at least one person who you can trust implicitly. They will catch you when you fall and help you to regain your footing.”
“Be aware that they are there for you. Know that you are not alone, and then everything will be fine.”
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