Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief


South African Mobility for the Blind Trust

Lessons on providing Orientation and Mobility training for all blind South Africans

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | People with disabilities | 15 August, 2013 - 02:00

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The South African Mobility for the Blind Trust (SAMBT) is an organisation, which quietly gets on with the job of setting up orientation and mobility training programs across South Africa. These training programs are run on time, are completed as planned, and are fully documented. SAMBT runs its programs within a modest annual budget and with a small staff component, providing vital services to the blind and partially sighted.

THE NEED FOR THE ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY TRAINING

In this learning brief, the Managing Trustee and cofounder of SAMBT, who himself is blind, describes the valuable lessons that his organisation has learnt about the need for, and implementation of, Orientation and Mobility training for all south Africans who are blind and partially-sighted.

"I discovered personally the profound effect Orientation and Mobility Training can have on you when you have lost your sight.  It opens the doors to so much else when you can go where you want and when you want.  It liberates you and raises your self-confidence and self-esteem.  You can also be taught ways of carrying out common daily tasks like cooking, identifying coins and banknotes, using a phone and ATM machine.  I discovered though that being able to get this training made me one of the lucky ones; for the large majority of my fellow blind South Africans there is, as things stand, little chance of learning to become independently mobile.  That is because there are simply not enough qualified Orientation and Mobility Practitioners in SA.  And so it was that our organisation was born and why we take an outreach approach in order to touch the lives of blind people living in rural and township areas across the country.

WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED

We have learned that, because blind people are scattered everywhere, you need to go out and find them rather than expect them to find you.  We have learned that this kind of training works best when it is done in and around the home of a blind person.  We have learned that the main reason why there are so few O & M Practitioners in the country is not so much that more cannot be trained but because there are very few jobs out there for them.  There are only just over 30 such trainers in SA right now (we employ 5 of them) while the number of member organisations of the National Council for the Blind, for example, exceeds 100.  We have learned that government departments such as Social Development and Health do not employ O & M Practitioners.  Of particular concern is that the Departments of Education do not subsidise posts for these Practitioners at schools for the blind.  We have learned that, despite our efforts over the last 15 years with over 3000 blind people benefitting, not much has changed for the many thousands more.

IMPLICATIONS FOR US AND OTHERS

The implications of this for us are that the need for our service will continue to vastly outstrip our capacity to deliver, until such time that major changes are brought about in the training and employment of O & M Practitioners.

The implications for other disability organisations, in particular those for and of the blind, are that they will need to rethink their priorities when it comes to Orientation and Mobility Training and raise the resources to sponsor the training of O & M Practitioners and employ them.  The government will also have to stop dragging its feet on this issue or it may find itself facing a challenge in the Constitutional Court.

Our plans are these.  We recently convened a meeting of key players in our field to consider the state of O & M Training in SA.  This is soon to be followed by a strategy and planning meeting.  We believe that a high-powered approach needs to be taken, especially towards government, if Orientation and Mobility Training in SA is to survive, let alone thrive".

South African Mobility for the Blind Trust


7 Beatty Street, Johannesburg  


 011 648 9035


In Short

In this learning brief, the Managing Trustee and cofounder of SAMBT, who himself is blind, describes the valuable lessons that his organisation has learnt about the need for, and implementation of, Orientation and Mobility training for all South Africans who are blind and partially sighted. 


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