Aleksandra is our newest ENIL Role Model, she is from Ljubljana, Slovenia and in this interview she tells us about her life and her ambitions.
Tell me about your background
My name is Aleksandra Surla and I was born on 15th of March 1987. I live in Ljubljana, Slovenia and I have been blind since I was born. I am currently studying comparative literature and literary theory at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana and I work as an editor of a newspapers in Braille and large-print at the Union of the Blind and Partially-Sighted of Slovenia.
When I was young I went to a local kindergarten where the teachers did not know how to treat me. I then transferred to boarding school for blind and partially-sighted children and was there for ten years. I felt much better there because I could relate to my friends, however I missed my parents during the week very much. Then I went on to attend a regular high school where I did not make any new friends for the first two years. My parents drove me to school and back home every day, so there was not much time for socializing. Also, I refused to use the white cain because I felt stigmatised and singled out when I was used it. Consequently, I was very dependent on others. For the last two years of high school I moved to a dormitory for high school students while I stayed enrolled at the same school. At that point I became much more independent and I started walking around the city on my own and going out with my friends.
After high school I enrolled to study Interlingual and Intercultural Communication Studies (translating) while living in a student dorm. While at the university I spent four and a half months in Belgium as a volunteer, teaching French to Turkish immigrants and writing articles for a local magazine. That was first time I had a taste of true independent living.
After I came back home I applied for a guide dog, which made me even more independent and confident of my abilities.
Is there an area of Independent Living that you are especially interested in?
I am very interested in the accessibility of literature for blind persons, especially in the form of e-books. A big issue in Slovenia is the availability of recently published literature in an accessible format and I would like to work more in this area.
Who had the strongest influence on you in the area of disabilities?
I cannot say there is a specific person that I could say he or she had a direct influence on me but I have great respect for blind people who have fulfilled their ambitions who have worked tirelessly to remove barriers in their path and who have worked hard to become a part of the society without either being patronised or glorified by the public.
Which is your achievement you are most proud of?
I was most proud of myself when I moved to a rented apartment and when I got a job as an editor of the magazine for blind and partially-sighted persons.
Your favourite sentence or wisdom?
What makes you wake up in the morning?
Besides coffee, which is the only thing that can really wake me up in the morning I find inspiration in seeking new challenges and their solutions, in discovering new interesting things to do, creating and appreciating works of art and reading good literature.
What do you do in your leisure time – when you are not working?
I like to write short stories and poetry, I like to visit museums and galleries, educate myself about dogs, such as dog psychology and various methods of dog training. Naturally I also like to spend a lot of my time with my guide dog Athena.
Whom would you invite for dinner if you could have a chance to – who would be your ideal guests?
I would most probably select my friends who have supported me and believed in my strength determination to achieve what I set out to do – to gain independence and a fulfilled life.
What would be your advice for young people with disabilities?
Young people should know that life is not easy and that crises are an integral part of our lives, that they shape us into who we are and that they should face problems head-on rather sweeping them under the rug and letting them fester.