POSITIVE: Scado Mkhondo, who has ataxic cerebral palsy, said: “You should see me before you see the disability.” Picture: Lauren Jensik
Scado Mkhondo, 23, has wanted to be an actress for as long as she can remember.

“That’s my passion, but however my disability is holding me back because people are not open minded.”

Mkhondo was born with ataxic cerebral palsy, a disability that has affected her speech, intellectual abilities and her ability to walk properly.

She lives with her parents in Etwatwa, Ekurhuleni, does not use a wheelchair and does everyday things able-bodied people do, but at her own pace.

She cleans, irons clothes for herself and her dad, polishes shoes, makes tea and occasionally cooks.

Despite the effects the disability has had on her speech, Mkhondo’s strength is her choice of words. Speaking is her strength.

Since turning 18 in 2012, she has applied for countless jobs but has struggled to find employment especially in the entertainment industry.

“Whenever I apply, they will respond and say ‘thank you for applying’ but they never really get back to me,” she said.

Finding an agency that will represent her and assist her in finding work as an actress or television presenter - her dream jobs - has also been a challenge.

“Directors don’t really allow persons with disabilities, which is really disturbing to me because when you switch on your TV, you see an able-bodied person playing a part of a disabled person,” she said.

According to advocates, the job market remains a restrictive place for people with disabilities.

Few companies have made the adjustments necessary to accommodate disabled individuals in their workspaces, such as providing wheelchair accessibility.

The severity of the disability is often a factor in getting hired at various work institutions.

With cerebral palsy, for example, some may struggle with certain motor functions like walking while still having the ability to speak normally. For others, it may be the opposite or difficulties with both.

While Mkhondo has considered sheltered employment, a work setting specifically designed for the needs of disabled people, such opportunities are geographically few and far between.

Much of the R1000 stipend she would earn per month would go to transportation costs.

Mkhondo said of public transport: “It’s extremely emotionally draining, taxi drivers get impatient with you. They expect you to jump out quickly. They expect you to climb in first, and if you can’t, that’s when the yelling starts.

“I plead with the government to start investing in public transport for persons with disabilities everywhere. Not just in Joburg, but also around South Africa.”

The Department of Labour’s chief director of labour relations Thembinkosi Mkalipi agreed that more sheltered employment locations are necessary.

“All of these issues depend on the growth of the economy,” he said.

“If the economy’s not growing, there won’t be enough money to create many things like the sheltered employment. There’s no doubt that we definitely need more of this intervention.”

Mkhondo has sent numerous copies of her resume to the Department of Labour in nearby Benoni, but has not received any assistance or job prospects. Officials said that they were not at liberty to discuss the circumstances surrounding disabled people and employment with the media.

Because she attended a private school for disabled students instead of a mainstream school, Mkhondo was unable to further her education at a university. She is unsure whether her lack of mainstream education or her disability is keeping her from getting a job.

In 2012, she auditioned for what was supposed to be a spin-off of the popular television series Idols (South Africa). The premise of the spin-off, called Gifted Stars, was for and about people living with disabilities achieving success in entertainment.

At her audition at SABC’s M1 Studio in Joburg, Mkhondo was told she would be contacted if she was allowed to advance in the audition stage. She didn’t hear back from them and the spin-off never aired.

When she inquired as to what had happened to the show, she was told “the funds were misused” and the auditions were discontinued.

Though she wants to see a greater initiative taken on behalf of people with disabilities, Mkhondo is unimpressed with National Disability Rights Awareness Month, which takes place every November.

“It’s actually an insult,” she said. “Because after November, what happens? Back to square one.”

Her hope is to see celebration and acceptance of disabled people 365 days a year.

“You should see me before you see the disability,” she said.