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