A local company (based in Pietermaritzburg) and KZN Blind and Deaf Society PRC entered into discussions for contract work. It was envisaged that the beneficiaries of the protective employment workshop clients would be responsible to placing the inner soles into shoes. The challenge that arose was transporting the soles to and from KZNBDS. The company then decided to hire 2 beneficiaries from the Society which would also help them meet their employment equity targets. The company provided their requirements – male Deaf and female Deaf persons who are physically fit. The social worker searched through the Society database of job seekers and found 2 suitable candidates, who were interviewed and employed.
2 months later, the company reported that they were happy with their new staff who fitted in well into the company and interact well with all staff. the 2 beneficiaries were also very happy. They previously relied only on the disability grant to support their families, which did not meet all their needs. They are now able to provide for their families. The contract job they have has given them a sense of belonging and purpose. They are happy to be in their working environments.
Pela was born in Ulundi and had a happy childhood with his parents and 3 siblings. He was raised to be a disciplined young man who’s also a hard worker. After completing his studies, he later moved to Durban for employment. He worked at a large shipping company and at age 31 started building a home for him, his partner and their children. Everything seemed to be going well until a fateful day in July 2022. Pela went to Umlazi with a friend and his life changed forever. Out of nowhere a pair of gunmen appeared and shot him multiple times. He was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Fortunately, he survived the injuries but this incident left Pela completely blind in both eyes.
After discharge, Pela was referred to KZN Blind and Deaf Society for further assistance. The Social Worker conducted home visits offering psychosocial support to the client and his family. Initially the emphasis was on grief counselling as he was struggling to accept the loss of his vision, mobility and employment. At first Pela was not very keen on receiving Society’s assistance because he viewed being blind as the end of his life. With ongoing counselling, and training from the Orientation and Mobility team, Pela started to accept the huge changes in his life. He joined the support group facilitated by the social worker where he interacted with other people with the same disability and became empowered. It was not an easy journey but through the support of his family, KZNBDS staff, the support group members and his previous employer, Pela is now more determined to live his life to the fullest and play an active role in his family.
Ms. Deaf International 2022, MEGAN HOLMES
Talk by Our Guest of Honour Megan Holmes, Ms. Deaf International 2022 at KZNBDS Mother’s Day Breakfast
I’m honoured to be speaking to you. I hope that you feel excited as I am to be part of this special moment. My name is Megan. I’m Ms. Deaf International 2022. The first ever Ms. to win an international title. I’m a sports fanatic and a mom of a Deaf child.
The question you would probably been asked about the challenges of being a Deaf mother. I believe the common answers are: ‘It’s not easy at all’, ‘Very difficult’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
For me, the first thing that came to mind was my daughter’s first cry. I didn’t hear that cry for the first time. I’ve been told to take off the hearing aids (for technological reasons) when I went into the theatre. When I saw my baby the first time, I cried with mixed emotions. Happiness because she looked so beautiful. Sadness because I was unable to hear her first cry. This was heartbreaking for me. I communicated with her using sign language from day 1. I wasn’t even concerned if she was Deaf or not. Her health was the main thing that came to my mind. My ex-partner was worried, and he wanted her to go for a hearing test to make sure (the first test somewhat confirmed that she was hearing). So, I decided to take her to an audiologist for a hearing test for a second time and that time it was confirmed that she was Deaf. Deafness runs in my family. He was very upset as if his world was coming to an end. I was shocked and confused by his reaction, but I continued to do my best for my child. On the bright side, her first sign language was ‘Light’ when she was 7 months old and there is absolutely nothing wrong with her!
When she was four months old, we moved to Johannesburg, and it was the hardest decision to make because I was leaving my family behind and starting a new life there with my ex-partner (Unfortunately things didn’t work out) then I realized I needed my mother the most. She is always there for me. No matter what. However, I was on my own. Every night I had to wear my hearing device when I slept. I got up constantly at night whenever I heard unfamiliar sounds as I thought she was crying. It was hard for me to recognize when she was sick because I was doubting my intuition. It was really exhausting. It took a toll on my mental health. Becoming a first-time mother without emotional support is a very daunting experience and believing that I was doing everything wrong. I was being constantly criticized for my mothering style and the way I looked (it’s so easy to forget to take care of yourself) which led me to believe that I wasn’t good enough for my child. I was told that I was too clingy and a soft mother. It’s very hurtful because we as a first-time mother are trying so hard to do our best for our children, right? It’s so sad that most of us are going through this. Loneliness and isolation hit me hard. There were many challenges like I was unable to make Dr. appointments and I ignored when the phone rings from school about something important. So many feelings of missing out of what was going on or what was being said. I don’t even like going to the parents’ meeting. I hate to ask for assistance or depend on others. Being Deaf is isolating. Eventually, my mental health got worse, and I got a lot of suicidal thoughts. I found myself crying frantically in the bathroom. I wasn’t aware that my child was there, and she saw my behaviour. Of course, she doesn’t understand the whole situation, but she just came to me and hugged me. We cuddled on the floor for a while. When I looked at her face, I said to myself, ‘Nope I can’t do that, and I need to stop that. I must be strong for her. She needs me the most’. I decided to go for counselling, and I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety attack. Slowly, day by day I was learning how to manage my mental health and went out more often. Set up playdates with mothers. Learnt from them. I’ve managed my life better emotionally and mentally when I joined the cycling club. Sports helped me to become physically and mentally stronger, it taught me patience, commitment, and discipline. Every day I look at her and she reminds me why I’m alive and I’m very grateful to have her. She is my greatest gift.
At her age of 5 & 6, she witnessed that I’ve won Ms. Deaf South Africa 2021 and Ms. Deaf International 2022 respectively. I’m so proud to be her role model and she is the one motivated to keep going. Being a title holder is not all about gliding down a runaway in a flowing gown and a glittering crown. It’s about personal growth. Your confidence will grow. Your emotional intelligence will improve. Your perspective will change. You will become a better version of yourself and be the best role model for others. See my glittery crown. It’s red. Red represents Perseverance, versatility, and loyalty, as well the real unique essence of being a Deaf woman. This sums up my whole journey so far.
My message to all mothers,
You are simply amazing, and you do more than just give them life. You teach them right from wrong. You bandage their scrapes and wipe off their tears. You hug them when they are feeling down and celebrate with them when they are happy.
Remember all of us are lucky enough to have a mother in our lives, however we may have had someone like grandmother, aunty, sister, and maternal figures step up and fill that role for us. Show them your love and appreciation in return and they all need this. Don’t wait for Mother’s Day to celebrate. Celebrate small any day. Any time. We don’t live forever but our mother’s love lasts forever.
ORIENTATION & MOBILITY
The O & M Assistant trained one of her clients and the family members were so excited to see how independent their mother had become that they told her about their neighbour Mr Joe who is blind. The O&M Assistant visited him and found that Mr Joe, who is in his sixties, was involved in a car accident. The broken pieces of glass that got into his eyes and this led to him becoming blind. He is living with his supportive wife and children. He told the O & M Assistant that his priest told him that he is going to see if he keeps on bathing with the water he got from church (after bathing the whole body he must get clean water in a dish and sprinkle water from church then washed his face). He has been using that water since 2017 after the accident with no progress. However he was still unwilling to accept his disability. Ever since the accident he was depending on his wife. The wife was just pulling him when accompanying him to the toilet as she didn’t know any better. Mr Joe couldn’t count his money on his own when receiving the grant.
The O & M Assistant explained to him and the wife the importance of receiving the training. They understood and allowed her to start training him. She taught them (Mr Joe and the wife) Human Guide Techniques which are the techniques where a visually impaired is using a sighted person to guide him/her. She taught him a route from the house to the toilet while using protective techniques that prevent him from bumping into objects also using landmarks along the route so that he can refer to them if he feels like he is getting lost. She also taught him money identification.
Orientation and Mobility Practitioner taught him cane techniques and gave him a cane to use when travelling around the yard. Mr Joe is now independent. He can go to the toilet alone; his wife is no longer accompanying him. He can also identify his money on his own. When they travel together, he applies the correct Human Guide Techniques with his wife like gripping the arm. The family is now excited about life again. Mr Joe said that he doesn’t care if he can never see again because he is no longer dependent.
LEFT IN THE DARK
Ms. G is a 56-year-old single parent of 3 children. She was referred to KZN Blind and Deaf Society by the McCord Hospital Social Worker for rehabilitation and empowerment. Ms. G became blind after she diagnosed with Tuberculosis of the Bone. The TB treatment combined with Anti Retro Virals contributed to drug induced optic neuropathy and bilateral severe Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR). Ms. G alleged was overwhelmed by the feeling that her entire life had been radically changed in an instant. The loss of her vision was devastating to her. Ms. G worked for a clothing factory, and she lost her job as she was unfit to continue working due to blindness. She hid indoors. Her friends and children could not deal with her blindness. Her children were not supportive as they didn’t understand her disability. They had many arguments and sometimes children left her alone in the house. She was nervous to do house chores independently for fear of hurting herself. Ms. G’s life was very challenging, and she had the incorrect belief that her blindness was a temporal condition. She found it hard to cope with blindness and cried most of the time.
Ms. G was provided with psychosocial support including counselling sessions on adjustment to blindness and grief stages. Challenges, family support and education on blindness, helping with coping skills and developing appropriate mechanism to enhance the independence of the client and the entire family. Due to the denial, it took almost one and a half years for to accept herself and her disability. Orientation and Mobility services were also offered to Ms. G. She was trained in Skills of Daily Living and regained independence. She is now self-sufficient, is able to travel independently and attends Society’s activities and events.
ORIENTATION & MOBILITY
Orientation and Mobility assistants in Ulundi do awareness talks and presentations in communities, with the aim of educating community members about visual impairments and the orientation and mobility services offered by KZN Blind & Deaf Society. After one of the presentations, a Community Caregiver (CCG) referred a community member (Lindiwe) that the Induna asked her to help. Lindiwe became blind eight months ago. Since then, she stayed inside the house and slept most of the day. She was irritable and moody with her daughter and grandchildren. Lindiwe didn’t use the outside toilet as she couldn’t get to it. She used a bucket instead. When her daughter was home, she cleaned up after her mother but when her daughter was not home the grandchildren didn’t want to help. The Orientation and Mobility assistant interviewed and assessed Lindiwe, identifying her challenges and ways in which Society could help. Lindiwe was taught protective techniques. These are techniques to help a visually impaired person not to bump into obstacles and hurt themselves when travelling around. When Lindiwe became blind, she felt like she was in a new environment and was scared to go outside. The orientation and mobility assistant helped Lindiwe familiarize herself with her environment, including the route from the house to the outside toilet. She uses trailing and protective techniques to go to the toilet. There is a footpath with grass in both sides that she follows which makes it easier to feel when she is veering. Orientation and Mobility assistant advised her to leave the radio on when going to the toilet so that she would just follow the sound when coming back to the house. She was also taught sighted guide techniques and skills of daily living by the Orientation and Mobility practitioner Even if she is left alone at home, she is mobile and independent. Lindiwe is no longer moody, easily irritated and she does not sleep all day long. Her relationships with her family have improved as well. The Induna was very happy that Lindiwe has been helped.
THE BITTER TASTE OF LIFE WITHOUT ID
Brenda was born Deaf at home in Clermont. Her parents, who were not legally married, did not take responsibility to apply for her birth certificate with the Department of Home Affairs. Brenda never attended any clinic either, so she did not have a road to health card. Without these documents she could not be enrolled in school. She remained home with her mother who didn’t see the need for her Deaf child to get an education. This has prevented from learning to communicate in sign language. She mostly used gestures and pointing. Brenda never learned to communicate in writing either and is unable to read and write.
Brenda’s father passed away in 2011 and her mother in 2019. Brenda was cared for by her paternal grandmother until she passed away. Now Brenda lives with her late maternal grandmother’s sister Gogo Athena who brough her at age 19 to the social worker at KZN Blind and Deaf Society. Their main concern was an ID. The social worker requested for the paternal family to assist in the application for the ID. They failed to cooperate with the social worker citing internal family issues. They said they needed more time as they had to discuss the matter with the family elders. This took several months. Eventually the social worker wrote a motivation letter to the Department of Home Affairs to assist Brenda with her application for a late birth certificate. The birth certificate was issued immediately. Thereafter Brenda applied for and received her ID!
Brenda was referred for other services. She is in the process of applying for a Disability Grant, which will be of great financial assistance for her and Gogo Athena as they have been struggling to meet ends. The social worker has also provided supportive counselling for Brenda and invited to attend the sign language classes and other programmes the Society facilitates.
For Brenda being in possession of an ID means opening new doors of opportunities, which include active engagement in the political, cultural, and socio-economic spheres of her country. It also means the restoration of her dignity and the enjoyment of the rights she is entitled to as a proudly South African.
It is very important for parents to apply for a birth certificate as soon as their child is born (this also applies to children with disabilities). Then once a child turns 16 years old, apply for their ID. These applications are free at a Department of Home Affairs.
NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS
18-year-old Bheki was writing his final matric exams when he lost his eyesight due to congenital hydrocephalus (a condition he was born with). As a result, he didn’t pass matric which was devastating for him. He had worked hard in school and had dreams for himself. It seemed as if those dreams were crushed. Bheki and his family approached the social worker at the Pietermaritzburg Rehabilitation Centre for counselling as Bheki had become depressed. Through counselling, Bheki was helped to deal with his feelings regarding the loss of his eyesight and his poor matric results. He was encouraged to set new goals for himself. Bheki agreed to participate in a learnership that would equip him with skills to start a small business. The social worker put him in touch with learnership resources and he enrolled in a learnership for Business Management. Bheki was grateful for the opportunity. He utilised what he had learned and started saving money from his disability grant. He bought a brush cutter and started a business to cut grass in community. His business grew and he hired 2 persons to assist him in his business. However, Bheki still had a dream of completing matric. The social worker referred him to the Second Chance Matric Support Programme (SCMP) run by Department of Education. This programme helps persons with disabilities to complete their matric. Bheki was accepted at SCMP and has enrolled to complete his matric this year. Surely with the right support and resources, Bheki will achieve all his dreams!
After a successful awareness campaign done by KZNBDS Social worker, a community member came forward to refer a neighbor Mr. M. The 58-year-old man was living in isolation for more than 3 years after he was diagnosed with glaucoma and lost his vision. The client lost his job and went through a traumatic divorce during this period of “darkness.”
The KZNBDS social worker contacted the client to assess his circumstances and explore resources to assist him to learn independence skills, social skills, and gain confidence as a person with a disability. Mr. M was referred to the Orientation and Mobility practitioner and assistant. Upon completion of the indoor and outdoor training, Mr. M gained skills to live and travel independently using a white cane. He is now able to go to church and visit relatives with ease. This has boosted his confidence and has given him the opportunity to perform certain tasks that any abled individual would do with minimal assistance.
The Social worker family reunification with his children who he had last spoken to at the time of the divorce. Social worker also included Mr. M in various events during which he met other visually impaired people. This reduced his isolation and increased his self-esteem. Mr. M continues with individual counselling, monthly. He is working towards accepting his disability.
GENDER BASED VIOLENCE & DISABILITY
Ms K was born in 1985. She was a teacher by profession, and taught at a private school in Johannesburg. She started experiencing vision loss in 2018 after being assaulted repeatedly by her boyfriend several times. She went to her local hospital where the doctor confirmed that the assault had damaged the veins in her eyes and she can never see again.
Her family members were very overprotective. They did not allow her to do any chores at home or carry the baby at home because they were scared that she would injure herself or drop the baby. KZN Blind and Deaf Society’s Orientation and Mobility assistant conducted a presentation at a war room meeting. Ms K’s mother heard about the services and was keen for her daughter to received them. The Orientation and Mobility assistant took all the information and then visited Ms K.
The Orientation and Mobility assistant taught Ms K non cane skills to prevent her from bumping into obstacles around the house. She was also taught her and her family how to travel efficiently with human guides. This involved teaching her mother and siblings how to hold her when travelling together. Ms K was taught money identification (both coins and bank notes), how to count bank notes using the money template and how to count coins using her sense of touch. She was familiarized with the stove. The Orientation and Mobility assistant used a high marker to teach Ms K how to adjust the hear when cooking. She was taught pouring liquids safely into a cup using sense of hearing and a liquid level indicator. Orientation and mobility practitioner taught her how to use a white cane to assist her in travelling outside the home.
The Orientation and Mobility assistant found out that Ms K never told her family about the cause of her blindness. Through lay counselling, she encouraged her to inform her mother and to lay a charge against the abusive ex-boyfriend, which she did. Her family supported her through the court case and the ex-boyfriend is serving a jail sentence.
The orientation and mobility training went well. Ms K is now independent – she can cook, clean the house, count money (both coins and bank notes) and walks to the spaza shop that is 800 metres away from her home. She has dealt with the trauma of the abuse and living a happy life.
KZN Blind and Deaf Society supports 16 Days of Activism of No Violence Against Women and Children.
Through the social worker’s list of clients, she was able to identify that many parents and caregivers experience challenges to raise children with disability. The caregivers experience a lot of stress, have little support and feel overwhelmed. This sometimes leads to neglect of their children. The social worker designed a support group to help caregivers to understand that there are others in a similar situation; feel less alone; share common concerns; received support from others; give support to others; and cope better with their challenges. The group named itself Siyanakekela (meaning We Care). During the weekly group sessions, members shared that they were not aware that they are other caregivers in the neighbourhood who are experiencing similar problem. They were delighted to have a safe space in which to share challenges. They began to understand their children and their disabilities better and left the group feeling more empowered to cope with their daily lives. The group members exchanged contact numbers to keep in contact with each other once the group terminated. They were so appreciative of the service from KZN Blind and Deaf Society (Pietermaritzburg Rehabilitation Centre) and felt that all caregivers should join this group.
“… whatever good or bad fortune may come our way, we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” Herman Hesse, German novelist, poet and painter