AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE AT THE CPT SOCIETY FOR THE BLIND

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By Lumka Oliphant

When we describe an experience as eye-opening, its depth is not truly comprehended until we spend a day in the shoes of a blind person. In my adult life and at work, we are instructed about policies and expected to be sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities, yet we are never given the chance to learn and immerse ourselves in the day-to-day experiences of those who are blind. As a child, I grew up in a home where my mother taught disabled children. Early on, we were exposed to children with disabilities.

Our time was spent at Thembalethu Day School in Gugulethu, a school for the physically disabled. Quite early on, my mother took it upon herself to educate us about physical disabilities and fundraise for the children. It was later in life that I understood why she took us to every work event and involved us in fundraising for the school. Today, I learned that just like everyone is taught how to write and be independent, walking around using a cane for a blind person is taught.

We visited the Cape Town Society for the Blind in Salt River, an organisation supported by the National Development Agency (NDA), an entity of the Department, when the first group of young people was starting their training in different courses.

Golden Dzapasi, the orientation and mobility practitioner who teaches students how to use the cane for daily living safely and navigate their homes, among other skills, guided me. He blindfolded me so that I could have an appreciation for what he teaches his students. It was refreshing to realise that using a cane is a skill. One is taught how to hold and glide it and also how to effectively use other senses.

This answered many questions I have always had about how blind people sometimes move with the cane without a guide. Marisa Teles, a social worker with the organisation, explained that if a person uses the same route, they also teach them to be aware of smells and sounds in the area so that a blind person can learn to be independent. I am pleased to report that in less than 10 minutes of the orientation on using a cane, it gave me an appreciation for the struggles blind people encounter every day.

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