BLIND STUDENTS plead for help

"IF THE place is untidy please excuse me and remember I didn't see it," Melusi Ncala jests as he ushers us into his home.

"IF THE place is untidy please excuse me and remember I didn't see it," Melusi Ncala jests as he ushers us into his home.

At his aunt's flat in Yeoville, Johannesburg, Ncala shows us the sophisticated gadgets that make his life as a blind student a little easier.

Ncala, 23, uses a laptop computer with software that "speaks back" to him with every action he performs.

This allows him to type his assignments, read online newspapers and surf the Internet with ease.

Through his cellphone, which is equipped with technology similar to his laptop, he is able to read text messages and chat with his friends on social network websites.

Such innovations have inspired Ncala and Chardy Williamson, both third-year Bachelor of Education students at Wits University, to learn more about the latest in teaching aids for the visually impaired.

The two were accepted at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, US, to undergo a month of practical teaching experience.

"It is a world-renowned school for learners with disabilities," Ncala says.

"It is where some of the advances for the visually impaired were pioneered."

Founded in 1832, Perkins School is the first in the US to deal with the needs of the visually impaired.

"We want to be exposed to more of these technologies," Ncala says.

"We believe that if we go to Perkins we will be able to come back with some of the things we have learnt and teach others."

Williamson, 21, of Boksburg in Ekurhuleni, says she is looking forward to learning more about teaching strategies that will enable her to teach both sighted and visually impaired pupils.

The pair are expected to leave for the US next month and need about R100000 each for their month-long stay there.

"We have asked corporations for help but none have come forward," Ncala says

"With both of us being students who are solely dependent on student aid to pull us through university, we do not have the funds to fulfil a dream that we have had for a long time."

Ncala was born partially sighted but lost his vision to glaucoma, a disease caused by damage to the optic nerve in the eye.

Williamson lost her eyesight gradually from the time she was eight years old.

She says she looks forward to enhancing her skills to improve the lives of those with disabilities.

The two have done their teaching practicals at mainstream schools where they have worked with able-bodied children.

"Children are curious and they expect something different from us because we are visually impaired," Williamson says.

"They are warm and accepting and tend to follow me everywhere I go."