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Dr. Diane Bell is a disability rights advocate, educator, activist, and professional. As the director of academic affairs for the University of Stellenbosch’s executive development program, she heads a program that works with professionals and managers to teach leadership and management skills. As the mother of a woman suffering from a profound hearing impairment, she’s a member of the Higher and Further Education Disability Services Association (HEDSA), a board member of the National Institute of the Deaf, and a member of the Presidential Working Group on Disability.
After receiving an HDE in commerce, she worked as a teacher of accounting, typing, and economics at Edgemead High School from 1991 to 2000.
She worked as a senior lecturer at Cape Peninsula University of Technology from 2001 to 2012 and worked as the international relations manager there from 2010 to 2012. In 2013, she started working at the director of academic affairs for the executive development program at USB.
In between all this, she gained further education, raised a daughter with a severe hearing impairment, started a company, and became actively involved in disability rights activism.
In addition to her education degree, Bell has earned an FDE Commerce in computer studies, an Master’s of Business in international marketing, and a PhD in education, with a focus on curriculum studies.
Her doctoral thesis investigated the support that students with hearing impairments receive at the University of the Western Cape.
In 2009, Bell co-founded HearAbility, a company that sells devices used by those with hearing loss to sub-distributors throughout South Africa.
Besides working with HEDSA and the National Institute of the Deaf, Bell is a trustee for the Carel du Toit Centre, a school that teaches deaf children to speak, which her daughter, Jody, attended. She was also recently elected to the Presidential Working Group on Disability, which first met on March 10.
“Having seen the barriers that she faces on a daily basis has really driven me to try to help other people who may not have the financial and social resources that we may have had to allow for her development,” Bell said. “I want to see change in our country.”
These changes include an anti-discrimination act ensuring that people with disabilities are discriminated against in the workforce, school, businesses, and government, making buildings accessible, and ensuring that those with hearing loss and other disabilities can receive a proper education.
“We need to start retrofitting buildings to make them accessible and new buildings need to be built to accommodate everybody at all possible stages of our lives,” Bell said.
With her work, she hopes to encourage those with disabilities such as hearing loss to realise that their disabilities don’t limit them from an education, from getting a job, or from being self-sufficient.
“The sky is the limit. We just have to teach our children to be self-advocates, to fight for their rights, to ask and communication for their needs, and they can do anything they put their mind to,” she said.
Listen to Dr. Diane’s interview below to hear her talk about the executive development program at University of Stellenbosch’s Business School, her history, and her activism.