Disabled ignored

Jace Nair, chief executive officer, Blind SA

Blind SA, a national disabled people’s organisation, joins the greater disability sector in South Africa in recording our disappointment in President Cyril Ramaphosa not mentioning disability or blindness specifically in his State of the Nation Address to Parliament on February 7.

Approximately 10% to 15% of our population have some form of disability and this segment of our population was not given a mention in the SONA. President Ramaphosa mentioned investing in early childhood development (ECD) programmes.

Why did he not highlight the need for children with disability? Parents of blind and partially-sighted children have very little or no access to ECD programmes.

It is generally acknowledged the first 1 000 days of a child’s life is crucial for basic development, and cognitive growth.

Blind SA receives hundreds of enquiries from parents requesting help.

Blind SA has initiated discussions with the departments of Social Development, Education and Health to address this lack of information, facilities and resources for ECD for blind and partially-sighted children.

The president mentioned the building of new schools and renovation of school infrastructures and the move over the next six years towards information technology and in particular providing all pupils with tablets.

Mr President are you not aware that blind and partially-sighted pupils at the 22 special needs schools and those children attending mainstream school do not have CAPS textbooks, readers, prescribed books, and recreational books in an accessible format, especially Braille and large print, more specifically, none of this is available in our African languages.

These children do not have Braille-writing machines and have to share the few machines that are available at these schools.

Although, South Africa has the White Paper on Inclusive Education 2001, there are almost 50 0000 children with disability not in schools.

Mr President, where are these children and is this not a concern that so many children with disability will not access school?

The children who attend special needs schools are living in unsatisfactory living conditions; hostels are overcrowded, poorly furnished and equipped; children with disability are physically and sexually abused and the perpetrators are promoted and transferred to other schools or retired without being criminally convicted.

These children have to live in a hostel away from school not because of choice and the majority of the parents are of the lower economic group and they are expected to pay hostel fees which they cannot afford.

Some of these schools close their hostel over weekends and parents have to transport their children home.

These children or parents are not supported by the Learner Transport Policy or even qualify for the nutrition programme that the state provides for other children.

President Ramaphosa you are urged to immediately review the issues raised regarding children with disability who were not even given a mention in your SONA and Blind SA urges you to consult with the organisation and other organisations from the disability sector in respect of issues affecting people with disability.