Helping the blind to be independent

Michael Tlhakudi

When her father became blind, little did Selina Thaisi know it would pave the way for a fascinating career 20 years later.

She was only two years old at the time. Today Thaisi, 23, is an orientation and mobility instructor who works at the Society for the Blind in Bloemfontein.

She has urged the Department of Health to "come to the party" to help the blind in Free State.

"We would like the government to come to the fore and assist the blind by providing more resources and training more instructors," she said.

"I grew up watching my father finding it hard to do simple things like going to the bathroom, getting the right clothes and feeding himself. It was painful for me," she said.

Thaisi did not sit there and complain. After matric she headed to Johannesburg to study orientation and mobility and completed a two-year course at the South African Guide Dogs Association in Bryanston.

Orientation and mobility is about making it easier for blind people to lead independent lives, said Thaisi.

"Through our services, including counselling, training, orientation, mobility and skills on daily living for the blind, we train them to walk, dress, cook and read.

"We provide them with the necessary basic human skills, and also help them with walking and Braille watches, how to use their walking canes and guide dogs."

But a lack of funds prevents Thaisi and the Society for the Blind reaching as many towns as possible and training scores of blind people to be independent.

"We need more guide dogs to make the lives of the blind simpler, but we need government funding for that," she said.

Thaisi said in a month they consult with more than 30 patients.

"Through our community outreach programmes we recruit blind people and the visually impaired, we visit them and make assessment after which we plan programmes for each of them.

"Most of our programmes take between one and three months depending on how quickly they cope.

"There are only three of us in the province.

"One is based in Welkom and the other in Thaba Nchu," she added.

Attempts to get a comment from the Department of Health yesterday were unsuccessful.