Be the change you wish to see

Her ambition is to break the stereotypes associated with people with disabilities in the fashion and entertainment industry and to pave the way for people to also be able to achieve what she has achieved.

Lebohang Monyatsi, known as Lee Elle, is South Africa’s first wheelchair runway model and was Ms Wheelchair World 1st Princess in 2017.

Disability Connect caught up with her to ask about her career challenges and highlights to date as well as well as her perspective on where we are as a country in terms of provisions for people with disabilities.

  • How do you feel being a hero to so many people in SA, both those with disabilities and those without? Wow thank you for saying that, but I do not think I am a hero.  I am just doing what I can to be the change I want to see in the world and hopefully inspire others to be successfully despite their hardships.
  • What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career to date? Getting a modelling agency that can represent me. I have been told things like: “We don’t represent people like you/producers don’t usually ask for people like you”. It has been difficult for black women to break into the media/fashion industry, it is also difficult to be a woman and to be fully seen, and it is extremely difficult when you are a woman with a disability.
  • What has been your career highlight so far? Doing the Woolworth TV Commercial is my greatest highlight so far. I felt so proud when I saw diverse models at the shoot, not only is it changing the perspective of what beauty truly is, but it is showing that we are all equal and beautiful. I am very humbled that I was one of those wonderful models.
  • What have you been doing to keep busy during lockdown? I have been volunteering at one of the schools in my community, assisting with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic since the reopening. I have also been reading a lot (I am currently reading ‘The resurrection of Winnie Mandela), and planning Miss Wheelchair South Africa, which will happen when the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
  • Do you feel South Africa is improving when it comes to provisions for people with disabilities? Although  I feel like we still have a long way to go, I do feel like South Africa is improving when it comes to provision for people with disabilities and to make a barrier free world  We need to work together to break the stigma attached to people with disabilities.
  • Where do you feel improvements can be made to create a “barrier-free world”?

Just because I am a person with a disability, it does not mean that I am not successful, worthy and most of all, capable. In seeing people with disabilities fully, we need to remind ourselves that they too are human and deserve to be treated the same as everyone else. Ideally, the focus should be on universal design, which will make everyone feel appreciated, accepted and catered for.

  • What are you involved with at the moment? What is next for Lebohang?

Besides volunteering at one of the schools in my community and planning Miss Wheelchair South Africa with my team, I am also doing my honours in Psychology.

  • What advice can you give to younger people with disabilities to inspire them to follow their dreams? You live to learn, grow, enjoy life persevere, do what fills your soul and fulfils your dreams and always remember to be the change you wish to see.

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