Making a fAbulous impact improving the lives of others – interview with JT Foxx: Words: Jabulile S. Ngwenya
Being fabulous and successful:
Being fabulous while making an impact on people’s lives comes effortlessly to Bernadette Rigney, whose laugh is infectious, and whose positive outlook on life makes you smile. Bernadette is the founder and CEO of fAbility Lifestyle Guide, a South African founded company that combines fabulousness with sharing innovative ideas on how technology has the capacity to improve daily living for persons with disabilities.
Bernadette, who was born with a rare condition called arthrogryposis, which affects the joints and limits the range of motion in her hands and legs, is no stranger to the day-to-day challenges persons with disabilities experience in their everyday lives. Before she launched fAbility, she was the Transformation and Disability Awareness Officer for the City of Johannesburg. “During my tenure at the City of Johannesburg, I worked for eight years to advance the rights of persons with disabilities in South Africa, and bring about greater awareness of the many different needs for different types of disabilities,” she says. “When I left, I just wanted to continue what I was doing, but on a greater, more in-depth scale.”
Passionate about making a difference to the lives of persons living with disabilities in South Africa and throughout the world, Bernadette ensures that through her company, fAbility, people and companies are aware of the many avenues, tools and technologies that can be used to help raise the quality of life for many people living with one or more disabilities. fAbility also hosts events alongside South Africa’s successful persons with disabilities and celebrities, adding the glamorous shine to fAbility. “Through these fAbility events, I want to show that persons with disabilities can continue to live life fabulously and be successful,” Bernadette shares.
Her passion for making a difference is evident, and the team she has, helps her to shine. She firmly believes in creative collaboration. “I am fortunate to have an amazing team; the current Mr South Africa, Armand du Plessis who attends our events as our celebrity guest and two amazing women living with disabilities form part of the fAbility team,” Bernadette smiles.
These two women are Terry-Ann Adams, an albino, who is a strikingly beautiful model, host, master of ceremonies, and the Face of fAbility, and Jabulile S. Ngwenya, a deaf content creator, copywriter and journalist who is fAbility’s official writer. “Each of these two amazing women run their own companies and form an important component of fAbility, contributing to the company’s success, together with a few other people,” says Bernadette. “This is creative collaboration in full force, showing how persons with disabilities can come together and speak with one voice to bring about positive change.” This collaboration, Bernadette explains, extends further to people like Helga Barkhuizen who is committed and passionate about changing the disability landscape from one that has until recently been largely invisible, to one that is loud, proud and vibrant that celebrates the beauty of diversity, being different and drawing on each others strength to bring about a more unified, cohesive society and world.
Harnessing technology and innovation to change lives:
Technology and innovation plays a big part in the fAbility success story. Innovative technologies, emphases Bernadette, are a critical driving force in raising the bar for improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities. The principles of universal design and reasonable accommodation are close to her heart. “I continue to marvel at the infinite possibilities that technology and innovation has to make daily life easier for persons with disabilities,” she says. “I, for instance, have long dreamt of becoming more independent in terms of mobility and driving a car. I believe this is possible.” “What people don’t realize,” says Bernadette, “is that some of the technologies they take for granted actually have functions that make life easier for persons with disabilities, such as the function on the Apple Watch which can help DeafBlind people to navigate cities. When I read about that story, I was just amazed at how something so small in a watch, yet so significant makes a tremendous difference to someone,” Bernadette shares.
Pioneering the world’s first Disability Talent Show:
Bernadette was fortunate to meet with Helga Barkhuizen, a serial entrepreneur (owner of six innovation-focused companies) and founder of the Yes You Can Fraternity initiative, which is the world’s first Disability Talent Show open to all ages and all disabilities within South African borders. Helga represented South Africa as Miss South Africa during the Miss International pageant in Chicago, US in July 2012. Helga has featured in magazines such as Forbes Africa Women, Forbes Africa, Marie Claire and Empowered Women to name a few and has presented as inspirer, trainer and motivator at various business success conferences. Helga’s motor vehicle accident during December 2013 sent shockwaves through the world, leaving her with an amputated left and heavily shattered right leg. Remarkably, Helga recovered from this traumatic incident and rose to the occasion. Today, she is more active than ever and became an official ambassador for USN Supplements a mere year after her horrific incident. This inspirational woman has since travelled internationally to touch more people’s lives with her moving message and life changing guidelines. “Helga’s accomplishments as a businesswoman, a model and an entrepreneur, positioned her perfectly to kick-start the Disability Talent Show,” says Bernadette.” I was honored when she asked me to play a role in getting this significant show on the road – a first in South Africa, on the African continent and worldwide. I am very excited about this show, and believe that it will significantly transform the way many people view disability in South Africa and on a global scale. Helga is helping to make an impact in spearheading initiatives that make a significant difference to elevating the quality of life for many persons with disabilities.”
JT Foxx shows that a disability doesn’t define your ability to be successful:
In April earlier this year, Bernadette and Helga attended the National Achievers Congress 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa which took place from April 24 -25. At this congress, JT Foxx spoke alongside international motivational speaker, Nick Vujicic. “It was an amazing event, with inspiring speakers, and I was honored when Helga introduced me to JT Foxx, who in turn invited me to his training session. He graciously allowed me to interview him exclusively for 30 minutes. I came away pleasantly surprised by his support and compassion which he shows to the disability sector,” shares Bernadette. “It is incredible that he started out with just $974 in his pocket and a big dream to succeed when he moved from Canada to the United States. That is so inspiring!”
JT Foxx is an exuberant man who loves ties, and who has acquired several South African grown businesses during his South African leg of his global tour. “It was interesting to learn how JT Foxx battled with a stutter growing up and hearing that he wouldn’t amount to much in life,” Bernadette says. This, Bernadette points out, is pretty much the type of attitude that many people with disabilities have to deal with, being told that they are not valuable and don’t make a positive contribution to society. It is precisely this type of attitude, says Bernadette, that needs to be overturned throughout society, and we can begin tackling the many misconceptions about disability one step at a time, one person at a time. This attitude helped JT Foxx turn all his business misfortunes into streams of opportunities, and today, he has worked hard to create his business empire, all before the age of 30. Nowadays, he is acknowledged as one of the world’s best wealth and business coaches. “JT Foxx works hard, but he also knows how to have fun,” laughs Bernadette. “I believe this is one of the biggest attributes of being successful, namely, loving what you do, putting the passion in it and having fun along the way.”
During the interview, says Bernadette, JT Foxx shared some of his motivating factors. The things that make him smile include knowing that he is a better person today than he was yesterday, measuring success and progress through personal growth and change, and how he is able to leave a positive impact on people’s lives, helping them to change the trajectory of their lives for the better. This overall philosophy, Bernadette says, fits in with fAbility’s mission to show people that persons with disabilities can live life fabulously. “It is so important to do what we can do today, to leave a significant, real, lasting legacy for others that enable them to live more fulfilling, positive, rich lives that doesn’t hinder them from realizing their full potential.”
Interview between Bernadette Rigney and JT Foxx:
Bernadette: How do you see the virtual evolution adding to the work environments, virtual conferences, etc? Is it a good thing (lack of interactive skills, whilst allowing people to be more interactive)?
JT Foxx: “What people look for is an experience. We’re becoming an experiential world. Virtual is not the end all be all; it’s not one thing that works, there are 25 other things that work – there are also cost savings to going virtual. With Skype in South Africa, virtual conferencing isn’t possible. There are advantages and disadvantages, if I could present to the world from my home on the ocean I would. However, connection speed on this side does not always allow the same experience as seeing me live on stage.”
Bernadette: With your companies, what are the ways forward with technology and innovative plans for the future?
JT Foxx: “We should live in a one push of a button society where you could see all your facts and figures by pressing one button. Small business CRM systems are the way forward and as of this week, I acquired one such company to develop just that.”
Bernadette: What is your perception on employing persons with disabilities? Would you see it as a social responsibility or adding value to your company and society?
JT Foxx: “Persons with disabilities have rights, and excluding them because of their disabilities will be unconstitutional. People’s limiting beliefs and not understanding disability is probably one of the biggest myths. It is a catch 22– What I would probably do (if I were to run for president) is to give companies incentives / tax breaks for employing people with disabilities. Everyone would then employ people with disabilities, because now there is a benefit. People make decisions with their wallets. However, this should not be seen as the norm, because there is nothing wrong with anyone with disabilities.”
Bernadette: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
JT Foxx: “Patience – but I believe that’s one of my strong attributes as well. We can always do more, help more, be more and grow more.”
Bernadette: What is your favorite accessory?
JT Foxx: “Ties”
Bernadette: If you had the opportunity to give South Africa’s youth a message, what would you tell them? What is your message to Parliament?
JT Foxx: “To the youth, look beyond the disability. Helga, Nick Vujicic and you are great inspiring individuals – you’re the true role models – against all of you I’m just a successful businessman. To political leaders, give companies incentives / tax breaks for employing persons with disabilities.”
Bernadette: On a scale from 1-10 how successful do you feel, and what is your ultimate goal?
JT Foxx: “Next to you, a 2. You have achieved so much more with a bigger deficiency. A 9 vis-à-vis society overall. Mark Zuckerberg is where I should be and against him I’m probably a 1.”
Bernadette: Rank these according to importance in your life: Friends, Colleagues, Oneself, Ties, Sport
Bernadette: What makes you smile?
JT Foxx: “Knowing that I am a better person than I was yesterday. How we change is how we succeed. Progress, I can always do more.”
A profile of Terry-Ann Adams:
Terry-Ann Adams grew up the only albino in her family, in her school, in her suburb and in her community. Born and raised in Eldorado Park in Johannesburg, she had to endure a lot of prejudice and discrimination. Born into a Coloured family, Terry-Ann experiences challenges as the only albino child in her family, and in her community. Her family educated themselves on what albinism is, and supported Terry-Ann, helping her to become the strong woman she is today. Terry-Ann, who knows all too well the mocking taunts and cries from people who see her as ‘other’, has learnt that being an albino does not in any way limit her or her abilities to achieve great heights. She refuses to let her different skin tone define her. Terry-Ann describes herself as a poet, former news anchor, news and actuality talk show host, MTN Radio Award winner, multiple MTN Radio Award nominee, disability rights activist, motivational speaker, albinism ambassador, girlfriend to an awesome guy, social media fanatic, Boondocks enthusiast, student, daughter, cousin, friend, Coloured and an albino. She is proud to say that she is all those things despite and because of her disability.
A striking beauty, Terry-Ann is breaking into the modeling industry, and changing how albinos and people with disabilities are perceived. In 2015, Terry-Ann became the Face of fAbility, a company that combines the traits of fabulousness with doing good to create a better world for people with disabilities. “I was blown away be Terry-Ann’s strikingly beautiful looks and asked her to be part of a photoshoot alongside 27 South African celebrities,” says Bernadette, director of fAbility. “Looking at the photos afterwards just confirmed that Terry-Ann will break in to the modeling industry. It’s an honor attending Events, radio and TV interviews with this dynamic and amazing lady. fAbility will be doing plenty of amazing photo shoots throughout 2015, so look out for stunner, Terry-Ann,” says Bernadette.
A profile of Jabulile S. Ngwenya:
Jabulile S. Ngwenya is a versatile communicator and content creator with a keen eye for strategy and detail. Born deaf, Jabulile has a gift for words and language. The only deaf person in her family, Jabulile has the ability to both speak and sign. This linguistic gift enables her to easily cross between the worlds of the hearing, hearing impaired and the deaf. A freelance writer and founder and director of Red Silk Tree Media, a company which focuses on content generation, content development, content management and bringing ideas to life, Jabulile is able to paint stories through her wordsmithery for print, film, digital and graphic media in such a way that the stories come alive on the page or screen. She enjoys crafting excellent content and giving it shape, form and structure. A fierce woman who doesn’t let her deafness hold her back, Jabulile attended mainstream schools in Canada, Swaziland and South Africa. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, where she specialized in writing and editing, and in multimedia.
In 2015 fAbility appointed her as the official writer for fAbility. “Jabulile has an energetic, positive outlook on life. She is immensely gifted in what she does. When I saw what she could do with words, I immediately knew she would be an asset to fAbility,” says Bernadette, director of fAbility. “She helps to take fAbility forward towards its goals when it comes to creating content for the company.”
Jabulile S Ngwenya
Red Silk Tree Media