How I obtained my current position?

I applied to almost every architectural firm in Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as to international job openings after graduation. Out of over 65 applications to small, medium and large firms I attended three job interviews in Johannesburg and accepted the first offer from a small practice called Ludwig Hansen Architects and Urban Designers. As it happened, the practice was looking for someone with expertise and insights into disability issues to assist them on an accessibility project. My job application included a mention of my Master dissertation topic, Inclusive & rehabilitative environment: the application of universal design principles to rehabilitate mainstream society’s attitude toward disabilities & access, and the research I had done at UCT which caught their attention. Before this, i was a Graphic Designer at ARG Design and Digital Application Tutor at UCT.

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What did you study?

Hiten received his B.Tech degree in Architectural Technology from the University of Johannesburg in 2011 and his Master of Architecture Professional degree from the University of Cape Town in 2013. He had received formal art training at the Johannesburg Art Foundation and the National School of the Arts from 1999-2006

How my qualifications relate to my work?

An architectural qualification allows me to deal with work of an architectural and visual nature as well as understand the construction industry. My Master’s degree allows me to work toward the status of Professional Architect taking on a range of architectural projects of various scale with bigger responsibilities in the office.

Skills that have contributed to my success?

I struggled with speech and language for years and despite my limitations I have improved my skills in public speaking, presentation and creative writing at university level with the help of speech therapies. In addition, strong graphic skills, creative problem solving and competency in a range of computer programs are the key skills for an architect. The knowledge and insights gained from my Master’s Design dissertation also contributed to my success in the workplace. In fact I did not expect my Master’s research to become such a valuable asset and to open up exciting possibilities that I thought never existed.

Day-to-day activities?

I take on standard architectural work such as municipal submission drawings for building approval, construction documentation, site visits, architectural visualisations, renderings and graphic design. Aside from that I conduct audits of existing and proposed buildings for compliance to accessibility requirements as well as provide Universal Access consultantcy to professionals.

Best & most challenging parts of my job?

It is very rewarding to see one’s academic research making a positive impact on the built environment directly or indirectly long after graduation. The best part is that experienced professionals, including architects, are seeking my expertise and insights into disabilities issues and are making efforts to improve our environment for a wider range of people. The challenging part is staying creative in every project and finding inspiration for new concepts.

How to identify disability-friendly employers?

Disability-friendly employers are very rare and hard to find because discrimination exists in the workplace.  I am fortunate to have an employer who supported me and gave me a chance to prove my abilities. Disability-friendly employers are very open-minded, easy to communicate with and they judge you based on your abilities and competency rather than your limitations. These types of people are open to any form of communication and do not discriminate against you socially, professionally and financially.

From my experiences avoid employers who promised you decent work, regard you differently from everyone or say that you “have a disability and are expected to work for a free lunch”. Ensure you have a written contract upfront with basic employment conditions and a salary that is not less than a market-related salary before taking on a job.

How can graduates with disabilities fair equally well in the job market?

Market your own abilities and strengths when applying for jobs. It is better to be clear about your own limitations during job interviews and discuss any concerns or misconceptions potential employers may have.

Involvement at UCT?

I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in my Honours year and helped build a house in Mfuleni Township. It is not easy to cope at university level with one’s disability. There are days when I am literally drained of energy from listening, lip-reading, concentrating hard, maintaining a clear speech and often I have to put in more effort than any other students to keep up. UCT Disability Unit provided the biggest support during my studies and they are excellent with their advice and services. They are very proactive and look after every student’s well-being.

Gaining a competitive edge while at UCT: 

Learn as much as you can, make as many mistakes as you can, have fun being a student and most importantly BE YOURSELF. Do not compare yourself with anyone or compete for higher results because it will not get you anywhere. University provides you opportunities to learn new skills, gain knowledge and prepare you for success. It is not a place or time to impress anyone.

About approaching your own career development journeys:

I wished someone told me about the Careers Service before I started university and I am telling you this right now. They are there for a reason: to save you from a lifetime of regrets.  Visit the Careers Service and consult the experts on planning career paths and life goals. Take a break after high school and shadow a number of professional jobs before you make a big decision on your future. If you wanted to be an architect, visit a practice to see what kinds of work they do and whether it excited you or not. This way you won’t have to limit your choices to traditional career paths and avoid unrealistic expectations.

How to rise above labels?

It is your life and only you have the power to make your dreams come true. Do not let your job or any labels define your life and restrict your dreams.