The world’s only deaf medical researcher can also play two instruments

Magteld Smith can’t hear a thing. Diagnosed as profoundly deaf by audiologists, her life is utterly without sound. In light of this her control of the piano and trumpet feels absurd. She grew up in a musical family and, refusing to let her disability prevent her from experiencing life in its fullest, learned the instruments in defiance of the will of the world. This tenacity has been the mark of Smith’s life. It has seen her go on to become the world’s only deaf medical social researcher, focusing on deafness and hearing loss.

A relentless pioneer, Smith is also the only deaf South African to have acquired two Master’s degrees and a PhD. But her rise to academic prowess began in sad conditions. Dismissing widespread professional opinion that their daughter couldn’t be taught, her parents enrolled her in school. But Smith’s teacher was young and lacked the experience to connect with disabled students. This caused a situation that frustrated both parties, until Smith moved to the De La Bat school for the deaf. The change proved a pivotal moment in her life, as she immediately connected with her new environment and began to understand herself better through it. By the time Smith matriculated her self-confidence had grown immensely, compelling her to pursue tertiary study in the USA after a stint of travel.

Upon her return home she linked up with the University of the Free State to do post-graduate work. She is now a fulltime staff member at the university. Having experienced the failings of conventional schooling, Smith’s goal is to make life easier for other deaf people to navigate society by prioritising forward-thinking research. One of her most notable breakthroughs was partnering with leading experts to prove that cochlear implantation and deaf education are cost-effective across Sub-Saharan Africa. But there’s a key ingredient to Smith’s personal success that has no hope of being defined in books: her unwavering spirit. She has become a pioneer in her field by believing that every day presents new opportunity.

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