This Woman Can't See Or Hear, But That Hasn't Changed Her Career Choice
Vanessa Vlajkovic, 21, said people need to understand being deafblind doesn't mean she's "from another planet" and doesn't want to be limited to a disability category.
Vlajkovic is a cheerleader, beauty pageant finalist, ballroom dancer, postgraduate student and past winner of Western Australia's Young Person Of The Year Award.
She is also deafblind, a condition where both hearing and vision impairment significantly affects her communication, socialisation, mobility and daily living.
To speak with her via phone, questions were voiced to a relay officer, who then typed them to Vanessa, who read them in Braille. She responded by typing back to the relay officer, who voiced them.
"Try to think how hard it'd be [to live] without your main senses functioning. If you can grasp how challenging it is but don't feel pity, it would help us a lot," she told 10 daily.
The 21-year-old made headlines last month when Jetstar refused to allow her on a flight from Perth to Adelaide because she was travelling alone.
Due to Vlajkovic being deafblind, the airline claimed it had a policy that a carer must travel with her at all times for safety reasons.
The airline admitted Vlajkovic had "done everything correctly" by informing them of her specific disability prior to flying, but an error occurred where "only one of her disabilities" was recorded when she booked the flight.
Vlajkovic claimed she hadn't received a formal apology from Jetstar and had sent the case to the Human Rights Commission.
"They're trying to justify their actions; I hope it gets taken care of through there."
In a statement to the ABC, Jetstar said it had sincerely apologised to Vlajkovic.
Vlajkovic was born blind and began losing her hearing when she was seven.
At 16, she made the difficult choice to not get cochlear implants and instead focus her energy on learning Auslan, the Australian sign language.
She uses tactile signing -- when someone clasps their hands over those of the person signing to ‘feel’ the words -- to communicate, in addition to Braille.
"It'd be very helpful if [people] could learn tactile sign language and embrace it. Embrace us, our culture and language," she said.
"We simply have different communication requirements to you but otherwise, we're still human beings with lives. We lack the support and access to the world that you take for granted, so try to exercise some empathy."
Vlajkovic recently finished her Bachelor's degree, with a major in journalism, and will start her Masters at Curtin University in July.
As a student, Vlajkovic has to employ significant resources: two interpreters, a note taker and a communication guide at all times.
She said she won't "necessarily" need such a large support team when she ultimately enters the workforce.
"It really depends on the type of work and environment. I may need help for some things, and I may need interpreters for any formal meetings, but I'm likely to be able to work independently without round-the-clock support."
Interpreters are government-funded for workplaces, but Vlajkovic said she'd have to use the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) "for other costs".
Nastasia Campanella, a journalist who was the ABC's first blind cadet in 2011, advised Vanessa to "never take no for an answer" in her chosen field of media.
Campanella told 10 daily the budding journalist should be "really confident in the skills she's developed, and focus on those skills rather than her disability".
"Always try and find solutions to problems that arise, and seek support. She shouldn't be afraid to reach out to her support networks, if and when she needs them."
In Australia, nearly 100,000 people are reported to be deafblind, with two-thirds over the age of 65. They represent between 0.2 and two percent of the world's population.
Modern assistive technology -- such as smartphone compatible braille translators and magnification devices -- have assisted in new opportunities.
Vlajkovic said while people wouldn't ordinarily bump into someone who is deafblind "every day", they should always be "mindful and respectful".
"Don't stare, even if the person may be fully blind and wouldn't see. Still don't stare, because that's very rude," she said.
"There are many misconceptions about deafblindness and I'm certainly on a mission to clear these things up and portray deafblindness in a positive light."
Deafblind Awareness Week runs from June 24 -June 30.