Empowering Stories: Overcoming Vision Challenges and Fostering Inclusion at Cape Town Society for the Blind

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By Precious Mupenzi

Sandra Dreyer, now the Head of the Department (HOD) of Training and Development at the Cape Town Society for the Blind (CTSB), found herself thrust into a new reality when she lost her sight as an adult due to Macular Degeneration. This condition, which gradually leads to blindness, struck while Sandra was employed as a teacher.

Her journey reflects the broader global issue of vision impairment and blindness, as highlighted by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). According to their data, approximately 285 million people worldwide grapple with low vision and blindness. Strikingly, about 65% of these individuals are aged 50 and older, a demographic that comprises only 20% of the world’s population. In the face of these challenges, Sandra’s story embodies resilience and adaptation in the pursuit of continued professional growth and contribution to society.

“I wanted to do more because I am driven and I saw an opportunity when the HOD position opened up, I applied but was unsuccessful because of the prejudice where people think that blind people are incapable of managing but I was persistent, I applied again after two years when the then HOD left and this time through an agency. I was determined and I became the HOD in 2013, and right now our team is a well-oiled machine. I tell my students, if I can do it, you too can do it,” said Sandra.

She had been speaking about her journey during a visit by the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, to the centre as part of her outreach programmes focusing on teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence, youth, women and persons with disabilities in and around the country.

The visit was aligned with the ministerial week-long outreach programme held in the City of Cape Town preceding the State of the Nation Address under the sixth administration. President Cyril Ramaphosa is slated to deliver the State of the Nation Address on 08 February 2024 in Cape Town.

Minister Zulu inaugurated the outreach programme by visiting CTSB, a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) centred on training and skills development for blind and visually impaired individuals.

Dreyer, who has been with the CTBS for 20 years and also serves on the board of the South National Council for the Blind, thanked her family for supporting her as her life changed due to her condition, particularly her husband.

“My husband had to give up his job and start his own business so he could drive me around. My family had to readjust, they had to learn within the blind sector and not all blind people get this type of support and I thank God for that.”

She expressed that the centre had been instrumental in shaping her current identity, noting that she had entered the doors of the NPO as a broken individual. In 2020, the centre initiated the Low Vision Clinic and Braille programmes, providing free vision and eye health care services, along with screenings, to underprivileged and vulnerable members of society experiencing eyesight issues. This initiative bestowed the gift of sight upon those who lacked the financial means to access such services.

Some of the training offered by the centre includes life skills, end-user computing, public speaking, Braille, cane and material weaving and recanting.

Dreyer explained that the training offered at the centre is aimed at creating a sustainable environment for visually impaired people through innovative training, career development and job placement programmes that facilitate the creation of self-confidence, as well as economic independence.

“The training consists of soft skills and sets the tone for a positive narrative of the visually impaired, that they are valuable people who can contribute and participate in society. I had to give up driving when I began losing my sight and someone referred me to CTBS, I was reluctant at first my generalisation of such centres was that the people here just made baskets. When I got here I learned they had a computer training room and it interested me, I enrolled as a student to learn computer skills. After my training, I did not want to go back home and I volunteered at the centre since I was a former educator,” said Dreyer.

In 2004, an opportunity arose for a life skills facilitator position at the centre. Over eight years, Sandra enhanced her skills and transitioned to the role of a computer facilitator. This transition occurred following the expansion of the computer lab from one to two, reflecting the centre’s commitment to evolving and meeting the changing needs of its beneficiaries

One of the former students at CTSB, Roaesha Panday, explained that coping with being visually impaired was not easy. “The journey was painful and traumatic, and it even more so since I am a single mother,” she said.

Panday experienced vision loss later in life after a brain tumour diagnosis in February 2020.

Speaking on her journey at CTSB, she said that she started as an intern and was later offered a receptionist job.

“It is fulfilling to work for the same organisation that helped me to cope with vision loss, and be able to help people who are in a similar position as I was,” she concluded.

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