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At school, blind learners need their teachers or partially sighted schoolmates to guide them around the buildings. That means touch – a hand on an elbow or a shoulder – and social distancing now makes that a problem.

It would not be like this if these youngsters had, at an early age, been taught the use of white canes and daily living skills so that they could confidently find their own way. This has never happened, since our Department of Basic Education has never seen it as a necessity. It still doesn’t…

It’s been a difficult year for school children generally.

But it’s been an even more difficult year for blind school children.

And, it’s not over. Pandemic restrictions, and the uncertainty of ‘what’s next?’ still hover over us. It may carry on into next year.

So I’m writing to our friends now because I know that, with your support, we can take on the challenge and try to make a bad situation better.

Here are a few more examples of what needs to be put right:

  • Stay-at-home schooling just doesn’t work for many blind youngsters because they don’t have take-home braille writers, braille textbooks, or low-vision technology. Schools don’t have enough of these items to send home with the children – too expensive – and parents can’t buy them for the same reason.
  • Computer-based learning has been fantastic for sighted children schooling at home – but so little of this is made available online in a way that’s accessible to visually impaired users. They’re locked out.
  • Social distancing has caused some schools to reduce their hostel occupancy by half – allowing children to come back to school on a two-week rotation. Mostly, this is not suitable for blind learners since they simply can’t commute unaccompanied… I could go on.

Lobbying the Department of Basic Education to get a better deal for blind school children has long been part of our mission. We wrote to the Minister again in July, and will continue this dialogue.

It’s quite clear that so much of what should have been done already for these children in years gone by has now been cruelly highlighted by the impact of Covid-19. Had it been done, blind learners may not be having to accept the further retardation of their education.

Is this fair?

Quite clearly, it isn’t…

What government hasn’t done, and probably won’t do, we must try to do. And so we hope you’ll join us again at this time to help us urgently step in and give these youngsters a better chance to compete and fulfill their potential.

  • There is a huge role that our Orientation & Mobility Practitioners can play in teaching children independent movement and the basic living skills they should have been taught years ago.
  • Proper braille textworks – distributed to schools in the needed numbers – is a challenge our Braille Services could help meet with the right financial backing.
  • You won’t find braille writing machines – the equivalent of a sighted child’s ballpoint pen – on every blind learner’s desk. That’s tragic – but new, cheaper braillers are now on the market. With funding, we can help more of these find their way to young fingers desperate to learn like other children.

Years of Departmental neglect can’t be fixed overnight. It’s now a crisis.

But we’re determined to do what we need to do – make things better for as many of these young people as we can. They have a right to proper education as much as any other child.

Please join us now so that we can urgently turn our plans into action.

Thank you again for your understanding.

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