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Syd Askew Centre stays relevant

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Over the years, Optima has been blessed with many generous donors who have made a priceless contribution to the SANCB. One such example is the family behind the Syd Askew Centre at our Optima College, where students receive Call Centre and Introduction to Computers training.

The centre was as funded by Syd Askew’s wife Jeanette in memory of her late husband. Then in 2009, she paid for upgrades which included installing tactile and textured surfaces as well as textured rubber flooring.

You can imagine our delight when a sponsorship from a trust by the late Jeanette Luttig in memory of Syd made it possible to pay for new computers and software last year.

Since its inception the Syd Askew Centre has trained in excess of 400 visually impaired persons in basic and advanced computer literacy. This centre has also been utilised for training in contact centre and support (call centre training).

We’d like to express our sincere gratitude to Jeanette and other generous donors who have helped to ensure that Optima College continues to equip learners to take their place in society. Your investment will pay dividends in the lives of students for years to come. Thank you!
 

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Keeping on top of things

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Most Optima students live in the college hostel while they’re studying. This allows them to get to know their peers better, while learning daily living skills in a safe environment.

But as any homeowner knows, there’s always maintenance to do! We recently completed renovations to the hostel to accommodate more students.

Thanks to everyone who made this possible! The next priorities are to repair tiled floors and to fix the lift. Optima’s band and speaking group have also put forward a wish list: they’d love a new sound system. This will help them develop their diverse talents and skills.

We’d be grateful for any assistance. Thank you!
 

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A ball to remember

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Optima students never let 14 February pass by quietly.

This year, they pulled out all the stops and organised a heart- warming Valentine’s ball, complete with decorations, live music by the college band Tears of Joy, and guest speakers. Students also conveyed messages and presented gifts to their loved ones.

Thank you to everyone involved in making this engaging event possible.
 

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Meet a few of our Optima students

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Photo caption: Top, from left to right: Bongi, Vusi and Christina; bottom, from left to right: Meagan and Thembe

 

My name’s Bongi

Bongiwe Skota (32) lives in Pretoria with her husband and two teenage children. She was born near-sighted but her vision deteriorated after having suffered retinal detachment in her left eye in 2014 and, in 2016, she abruptly lost the sight in her right eye while busy with her postgraduate certificate in education.

Bongi enrolled for Introduction to Computers this year, which will enable her to continue her studies, and then resume her academic career, either in psychology, research or education. “Losing my sight was not the end of the world. I’m still going very far,” she says.

 

I’m Vusi

Vusi Mabuza (45) is from Witbank. This single father is one of our more mature students and is a public relations officer at the Development Bank of Southern Africa. He’s enrolled in the Introduction to Computers course. Although he’s independent and can already do tasks like ironing, he’s enjoying the orientation and mobility and activities of daily living training at Optima, as he’s trying to expand his white cane and cooking skills.

 

Hi, I’m Christina

Christina Segole (46) attended Optima last year, when she took study leave from her job as an English teacher. She’s partially sighted due to glaucoma.

Christina loved attending Optima and interacting and sharing stories with other visually impaired persons.

This is a place where we are taught to be independent. What I liked most was learning braille, and I look forward to finding a job at a school for visually impaired learners, where I can teach children subjects in braille.

Christina’s advice to Optima students is to work hard at improving their independence skills and confidence, so that they can go on to become productive members of society.

When you go out into the real world, your character and personality are the things that determine your success.”

 

Hi, I’m Meagan

Meagan Chauke (24) is from Pretoria East and is a day student at Optima. She lost most of her sight three years ago, when she suffered Intracranial Hypertension while studying political science through Unisa. She’s now only able to discern light, shadows and blurry shapes.

She enrolled in Introduction to Computers and hopes to return to Unisa and eventually become a South African ambassador. Meagan enjoys the cooking lessons in the orientation and mobility classes most.

She has a zest for life and is passionate about helping fellow human beings. Meagan and fellow student Sesethu started Loud Communicators, a public speaking group at Optima, to give students a platform to express themselves, build their self-esteem and showcase their talents.

 

I’m Thembe

Thembekile Spengane (25) is a dynamic young woman from Umtata. She matriculated from Efata School for the Blind and Deaf in 2015 and is studying Introduction to Computers.

Thembekile cherishes the new friends that she’s made at Optima, and appreciates the way her self- confidence has grown, particularly since joining the Tears of Joy band and the Loud Communicators public speaking group.

She enjoys orientation and mobility training, and is looking forward to learning how to iron her clothes. After completing the computer course, she’d like to enrol for Call Centre and Support and go on to become a call centre agent.

 

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Making the most of a golden opportunity

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Photo caption: Sesethu Xabanisa believes in facing his challenges head on

Can you imagine writing an exam without being able to read the questions or write down your answers?

23-year-old Sesethu Xabanisa had to do just that, when he was studying for a Business Management Diploma at a college in Johannesburg. The college provided him with a “scribe” to read the questions and write down his answers.

The solution was far from practical – but it didn’t stop Sesethu from passing accounting with a distinction in 2013!

This courageous young man believes in facing challenges head on, no matter how daunting.

He also knows how important it is to grab golden opportunities. So when he was accepted into Optima College, he jumped at it.

He signed up for Introduction to Computers and Braille Literacy, and is learning to use important assistive technology like JAWS and other screen- reading software.

He’s joined a crop of versatile, ambitious visually impaired persons at Optima, who are developing the skills they need to accomplish their goals.

After Optima, I’d like to complete my Business Management Diploma. I believe we should all own our uniqueness. Even if you’re not what society views as ‘normal’, we should all be comfortable with, and proud of, ourselves,” he says.

Optima numbers have increased in recent years and, with your continued support, we’ll train at least 90 students in 2017.

Thank you for playing a role in this great achievement!
 

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With a treasured white cane in his hand, ...

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Daan van Niekerk
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Daan is unstoppable

What’s your most treasured possession? Perhaps it’s a vintage Dinky car, or a delicate cut-glass vase? For 75-year-old Daan van Niekerk, it’s his white cane. And when he’s holding his cane, Daan is unstoppable.

That’s why, with White Cane Week just around the corner, we’re hoping we can count on your goodwill to provide more visually impaired persons with this life-changing device by making your donation online here.

Daan was born fully sighted but caught measles as a boy, which left him totally blind by 18. It was only in 1972, after he’d been blind for over 10 years, that he started using a cane.

Now, he simply can’t imagine life without one.

And your donation, made today, will extend this treasured gift to more blind and partially sighted persons.

Thanks to this irreplaceable mobility tool – along with assistive devices such as a liquid level indicator, tactile measuring tape and talking calculator – Daan leads an active life filled with accomplishments.

He has no problem navigating a busy shopping mall, fetching the mail or hopping on a bus.

And while Daan has a white cane, a lot of people can’t afford one.

But your gift – made online by clicking here – will give more visually impaired persons the tools they need to follow in Daan’s footsteps.

Daan is a retired father of three and lives in Pretoria with his wife Lettie, who’s also blind. He retired from the SANCB in 2005, after heading up our Vocational Training Division for many years.

He remains deeply committed to blind individuals of all ages; and he and Lettie started a voluntary project to equip newly-blind people with skills of independent living, such as typing, braille and indoor cane use.

Daan loves to give back to the blind community – and we know you do too! So please, can we count on your kindness and online donation today, to put adventure and accomplishments within reach of blind persons? Thank you!
 

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A Child's Human Right ...

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... to Education

South Africa celebrated Human Rights Day on 21 March 2017. Although we have come a long way as a country, some fundamental rights as stipulated in our constitution have not yet been fulfilled.

Of an estimated 18 750 000 children in South Africa, it is estimated that around 11.2% have some form of a disability. Only around 2 out of 10 visually impaired children are reported to currently be admitted to school, compared to the ratio of children without disabilities which stands at 8:10. Many of those who are attending school, do not receive the support and reasonable accommodation which would allow for them to gain a quality education.

This short animated video illustrates the backlog in the education of visually impaired children's education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without a proper education, these children cannot gain knowledge and skills to prepare them for employment. If this backlog is not addressed now, in a few years we may potentially have more than 1 million persons of school leaving age who have been denied the opportunity to reach their potential, to live independent lives and to maintain a sustainable livelihood.

As part of our mandate, the SANCB has created the Leave No Child Behind campaign, of which the objective is to ensure that all blind and partially sighted children are identified and admitted to school at an early age. We aim to do this through advocacy and monitoring of compulsory registration of visually impaired children in accessible learning centers across South Africa. The campaign will also ensure that there are adequate learning materials and assistive devices such as Braille textbooks and Perkins Braillers in these centers.

If you would like to support this campaign, please contact our Fund Development Officer on 012 452 3811 or send an e-mail to fdo1@sancb.org.za.

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World Glaucoma Week

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March 12 – 18, 2017 marks World Glaucoma Week; a collaboration between the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Association. The project is aimed at encouraging people to have their eyes (including their optic nerves) examined regularly, in order to combat visual impairment caused by glaucoma.

What is Glaucoma?

A treatable group of diseases that arises from increased pressure in the eye, which can damage the optic nerve, cause vision loss and eventually, blindness.

Statistics

According to the World Health Organisation, glaucoma accounts for 8% of global blindness, making it the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, after cataracts.


The number of people (aged 40-80 years) with glaucoma worldwide was estimated at just over 64 million in 2013, and is expected to increase to 76 million in 2020.

Risk Factors

People who are at greater risk of developing glaucoma include:

  • Those with high blood pressure;
  • Those with high eye pressure;
  • Those who suffered an eye injury;
  • Steroid users;
  • Those who have a family history of glaucoma;
  • African and Asian people, who are said to have a greater chance of developing glaucoma; and
  • Those who are over the age of 60 - chances of developing glaucoma increase as we age.

Prevention and treatment

  • Prevention is always better than the cure - a comprehensive eye exam at least once every two years is strongly advised.
  • Treatment of glaucoma involves a lowering of intraocular pressure (IOP) through the use of medicines (eye drops or pills), laser or incisional surgery (laser or conventional), or a combination of both medicine and surgery. Eye drops are the most common treatment option.

Click here to watch a short video (courtesy of CEU College of Optometry) about the causes and symptoms of Glaucoma.

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International Women's Day

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Left to right, top to bottom: Helen Keller, Diane Schuur, Trischa Zorn Hudson an
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8 March 2017 marks International Women’s Day and the theme for this year’s campaign is "Be Bold For Change".


On this day we are reminded of the many determined women who, despite visual impairment, were bold enough to lead the way in bringing about inspiration and hope for others by challenging biases and stereotypes. A few of the many examples include the following:

 

  • The well-known author, activist and lecturer Helen Keller, the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, as well as being a champion for the rights of women and workers.
  • Swimmer, educator and lawyer Trischa Zorn Hudson, who is understood to be the most successful athlete in the history of the Paralympic Games, where she won numerous medals for swimming. Formerly a teacher to learners with disabilities, she developed an inclusionary teaching model which encourages greater integration with fellow learners in the classroom, allowing for richer learning opportunities and experiences. She became an attorney and is currently working with war veterans as Legal Instrument Examiner at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, where she helps people in need of legal assistance.
  • Jazz musician Diane Schuur, who won a number of Grammy nominations and awards; worked with musicians such as Barry Manilow, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonders; and performed at many prominent music venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the White House. Click here to visit her website, where the music is playing in the background.
  • Abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman (1822-1930) escaped from slavery and proceeded to save approximately seventy enslaved families and friends. During the American Civil war she was a scout and spy for the United States, and later became an active participant in the struggle for women’s suffrage. Later in life she established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, to care for elderly people in need.

These are just a few examples of women with visual impairments who had the courage to not only rise above their own situations, but to also make a difference in the lives of others. Their successes serve as inspiration and beacons of hope to others.


Although great strides have been made to advance the status of women in the world, this progress does not always extend to women with disabilities, those who are visually impaired. Globally, visually impaired women still face a mountain of social, economic and political challenges. In South Africa they often face a double dose of discrimination – gender- and disability based. As a result, they are often denied access to education, and consequently employment. For instance, the global literacy rate for women with disabilities is estimated to be as low as 1% (only between 5 – 10% of the total blind population is braille literate), and women with disabilities were found to be only half as likely to be employed compared to their male counterparts.


Therefore, on International Women’s Day, the SANCB would not only like to celebrate the many successful women who have already made a difference in the lives of others, but also want to urge our members and supporters to follow in their footsteps, and to #BeBoldForChange. Let us actively work towards bettering the plight of the many blind and partially sighted girls and women who are denied the opportunity to take up their rightful place in society.
We invite all government departments, the private sector, and individuals to join us in the undertaking to ensure the educational and economic inclusion of visually impaired girls and women. If you would like to contribute by offering support with regards to education, employment opportunities or our community based self-help groups, please contact us.
 

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Response to the 2018 Budget Speech

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Pravin Gordhan's 2018 Budget Speech (photo credit: www.gosouth.co.za)
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Photo caption: Pravin Gordhan's 2018 Budget Speech (photo credit: www.gosouth.co.za)

Government's shifting and restated emphasis, as listed below, MUST include Persons with Disability (PWD):

1. Dignity and equality.
2. Analogue to digital TV.
3. Economic growth in the following areas:

a. R3.9Bn for SMME’s and co-operatives.

b. R1.9Bn for Broadband implementation in public buildings and schools in eight NHI pilot districts.

c. R3.9Bn for CSIR.

d. R0.5Bn for tourism promotion.

e. R300Bn by 2020 for agriculture development and land reform.

f. R37Bn for Higher Education.

g. R240Bn on Basic Education.


4. Reform of TVET colleges to meet market needs.
5. Private and Public investment in new technologies that help build a modern and diversified portfolio.
6. Increased opportunities to build livelihoods.
7. Fastest growing spending categories are health, social and community development.
8. Three new conditional grants will take effect to expand access to:
9. Early Childhood Development.
10. Increased employment of social workers.
11. Improved opportunities for learners with profound disabilities.
12. Improved asset management, including adherence to spending 8% of the value of assets on their maintenance.
13. Improved education is a CENTRAL priority.
14. IDC, Land Bank and Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) are steadily expanding their financing of agricultural and municipal infrastructure.
15. Further consultations are currently taking place on the tax on sugary beverages. Arising from these discussions, and working closely with the Department of Health, the proposed design has been revised to include both intrinsic and added sugars. The tax will be implemented later this year once details are finalised and the legislation is passed.
16. To expand the integrated school health programmes, including provision of spectacles and hearing aids.
17. To improve services for people with disabilities including provision of assistive devices.
18. Limpopo Central Hospital and the new medical school of the University of Limpopo.
19. Procurement authorities are now empowered to set clear targets to promote black-owned and women-owned businesses, participation of youth and disabled persons.


How does our sector respond to and potentially benefit from the shifting and restated government emphases listed above? Some thoughts below:


1. Pursue initiatives that assure degrees of self-reliance and independence, for example, physiotherapy.
2. We have already seen how consistently from year to year our sector outperforms the general populace on this front and we must continue to grow on these achievements and progress. The blindness sector’s youth should become a growing academic elite both at a secondary and tertiary level.
3. We must continue to pursue with the Department of Labour (DOL), Workshops for the Blind in rural areas.
4. We MUST have clear motivated programmes that can take advantage of the listed expenditure and development programmes, especially co-operatives, including the provision of boreholes to sustain agricultural projects.
5. We must continue to pursue initiatives with the CSIR to benefit our sector, like the recent launch of the SAnote.
6. We must also pursue initiatives that expose our member organisations to benefit from tourism, especially through arts and crafts. We are already actively engaged with various departments including the Department of Arts and Culture.
7. We sincerely hope that an urgent allocation out of the extra R5 billion or out of the total of R37 billion for Higher Education is allocated to Optima College.
8. We don’t see the spending growth in social development directly in either the increase in social grants from R1510 to R1600 (an increase of only 5.96%) or in improved service delivery.
9. Bearing in mind that certain forms of sugar may cause or aggravate the onset of certain types of diabetes which may cause or aggravate certain types of blindness, the question remains as to where the revenues from this tax will be spent.
10. Council too must strive to achieve improved asset management. At very least we must try to spend 8% of the value of assets on their maintenance. In the private sector they work on 12% typically, depending on the nature of the asset.
11. Optima College must strengthen its offering or if it is not able to do so affordably, then it must re-examine its evolving role in our sector and the South African economy as a whole.
12. Our efforts to secure funding from IDC, Land Bank and DBSA at a Council level have proven difficult to date.
13. In respect of school health programmes; Council through the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness has already positioned itself well with many programmes already delivered in association with private corporate funders. Bureau’s future in this service category will be determined by the State’s willingness to work with independent agencies, like the Bureau, with a proven track record versus trying to duplicate these services on its own.
14. We hope that the medical infrastructure developments in Limpopo will specifically allow for the training of visually impaired physiotherapists.
15. We hope the expenditure on Basic Education includes the much needed and promised development at our SEN schools, and most specifically at Rivoni School for the Blind. We further hope this provides for the delivery of text books to all our learners.
16. It is important that all targets are enforced, not merely set, but achieved!

In closing. Multinational corporations continue to use inconsistencies in global tax rules to their advantage and to avoid tax liabilities. South Africa intends to sign a multilateral instrument this year which will assist in the updating of treaties and will reduce the scope for aggressive tax avoidance activities. This continues to be the biggest ill in our society today, where those that have, refuse to pay their fair share of tax. Seeing their exploitation of the consumer and/or the poor as their entitlement and then not even willing to pay their fair share of tax on it.

This is the time for activists, workers, businesspersons, the clergy, professionals and citizens at large to actively engage in shaping the transformation agenda and ensuring that we do have a just and equitable society. And we as the blindness sector have our own advocacy role to play.

We also need to consider, in the face of such intractable economic hardships and disparities, whether we should supplement our Constitutional Bill of Rights with a “Charter of Economic Rights” – a charter that would bind all of us to an economy which:

  • Provides access to decent and well remunerated jobs,
  • Facilitates training and retraining of citizens in the face of technological change, and
  • Creates a supportive environment for micro, small and medium businesses and co-operatives.
  • Supports equitable education that empowers us all to do what we dare to dream.
  • Has a strong justice system with effective and sustainable punitive measures against those that would subvert:
    • First the equitable expenditure within the economy (through the elimination of price and tender fixing).
    • Second the equitable redistribution (through taxes) of wealth.

We can draw inspiration from Inkosi Albert Luthuli, when he says:

“I believe that here in South Africa with all our diversities of colour and race, we will show the world a new pattern for democracy. There is a challenge for us to set a new example for all. Let us not side-step this task.” We cannot achieve this without the immediate comments above being achieved.

For a more detailed report with comments on the Budget, click on the link.

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