The Johannesburg Society for the Blind (JSB) is a nonprofit organisation that caters to the needs of blind and partially sighted persons regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religious affiliation. JSB was founded in 1926 to help civilians who were blinded during World War One, by providing them with accommodation, employment, rehabilitation, skills of daily living, orientation and mobility. Over the years, the organisation has strengthened its mandate by focusing more on building capacity among the visually impaired so that they may also play a role in the development of South Africa. To facilitate checks and balances the organisation has a Board of Directors, a Management Committee, Residents Committee, Workers Committee and a Students Representative Council.
Education and Skills Development Academy
JSB endeavours to offer educational opportunities to visually impaired youths in light of how they are normally excluded from mainstream interventions. The initiative has three goals:
- Improve visually impaired youth's educational achievement;
- Prepare youths for succeeding in the workplace;
- Provide support services to the youth.
To improve the employability of the visually impaired, the organisation opened the Training Academy in 2009, which offers accredited training on the following:
- Computers (National Certificate in End-User Computing) - 20 enrolled students;
- Contact Centre Operations - the same 20 End-User enrolled students;
- A Complete Your Matric Project - 21 enrolled students.
The Complete Matric project was developed to facilitate the attainment of Matric by visually impaired youths who for various reasons fell through the cracks. Funding from the DG Murray Trust enabled JSB to purchase laptops and the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) software for the students. The first intake for the Matriculation programme had eight candidates, who registered a 100 percent pass rate in results released by the Department of Basic Education in July 2012. The impressive Matric results clearly show that given the right opportunities and support, youths with visual impairment can also make major contributions to the socio-economic development of South Africa.
In 2013, enrolment increased to 21 students as part of JSB’s broader aim to create a demand for schooling opportunities by youths with visual impairment. This will contribute to the reversal of the sad reality of the disabled community not being able to access training and educational opportunities. This reality is perpetuated by, among others, a lack of resources and commitment from the authorities, inadequately trained educators and limited access to Education and Training facilities catering to the specific and unique needs of the disabled. JSB is in partnership with the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP SETA), which is funding tuition for the current intake.
The Matriculation project is linked to the other training streams at JSB: End-User Computer and Call Centre training, vocational training in cane weaving, basketry and furniture-making that promote access to on-the-job training, employment and opportunities for self-employment. Thus, apart from income and employment opportunities, the education and skills development initiative also brings personal and social benefits, adding to a sense of human dignity among the visually impaired youths.
The organisation’s advocacy efforts resulted in its abstract being accepted, for an oral presentation, into the final programme of the Basic Education Conference that took place in Durban in April 2012. The title of the paper was ‘Practical Approach to Meaningful Inclusive Education’. The paper highlighted JSB’s three-fold approach in bringing about comprehensive education that meets the needs of visually impaired youths: to assist, to empower and to advocate.
Residential Care Facility
The organisation runs a residential facility, which accommodates visually impaired who for various reasons cannot stay with their relatives. Due to the high cost of living as well as the dire consequences of the global food and financial crises, which heightened in 2009, it is becoming increasingly difficult to adequately provide for the more than 90 residents in JSB’s care.
Most of the organisation’s beneficiaries come from disadvantaged backgrounds and their only source of income is the state-provided disability grant. JSB has a social work department which works with the beneficiaries, their families, the Department of Development and other role players to ensure that the needs of the visually impaired are addressed as best as possible.
Gender, HIV and AIDS Desk
JSB formulated the ‘HIV & AIDS Sees No Disability’ project to contribute to addressing the social dimensions of disability and HIV/AIDS with support from Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF). It seeks to address the disparities in access to HIV/AIDS services between mainstream society and the blind. Through the project we have managed to present the following papers at conferences:
- At the 5th South African AIDS Conference that took place in Durban from 7 to 10 June 2011, JSB had an abstract presentation entitled ‘HIV & AIDS See No Disability’: Taking the lead in improving access to prevention, support and care services among people with visual impairment;
- At the 6th Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance (SAHARA), which took place in Port Elizabeth at the end of November 2011, JSB had an abstract presentation entitled Invisible Women - Sexual and reproductive health rights of women with visual impairment: The impact of social, cultural and environmental determinants of disability on sexuality and implications for the HIV and AIDS response.
With the support of BMSF’s Technical Skills Programme under the organisation’s Secure the Future initiative, JSB launched the Gender Desk in August 2012. Both initiatives are designed to contribute to targets set in the National Strategic Plan on HIV, STIs and TB 2012-2016 and the Gauteng Plan as well, which point out that among key populations for HIV services are people with disabilities and people with the lowest socio-economic status.
Due to financial constraints, JSB has not been able to lobby at all the platforms that it has been granted opportunities to participate in, for instance it could not attend the World AIDS Conference in Washington.
The organisation also has an Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre for stimulation purposes and to prepare blind children for primary schooling. It received financial support from ABSA and Al Barak Bank to set up the ECDC and it accommodates up to ten visually impaired children.
JSB was privileged to have its poster presentation ‘Vulnerability of Blind Children’ accepted into the final programme of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Africa Conference that took place at Gallagher Convention Centre, Midrand, from 30 October to 2 November 2012. The abstract showcased the Early Childhood Development project at JSB, which targets children with visual impairment in terms of how their disability heightens their vulnerability to miss educational opportunities. This happens because usually children with visual impairment miss out on the opportunity for ECD and this has implications for school enrolment.
JSB also runs a protected workshop where it trains people with disabilities in basketry, weaving and furniture-making so that they are able to participate in meaningful economic activities and are not forced to overly rely on social grants. Twenty trainees were enrolled for the 10-month programme in 2012, with funding obtained from the FP and M (Fibre Processing and Manufacturing) SETA.
During the 2011 and 2012 Women’s Months JSB implemented a Human Rights Awareness Raising Through Events project in Mpumalanga, with financial support from the Foundation for Human Rights. The purpose was to draw public attention to the socio-economic rights of women with disabilities. This was in partial fulfilment of JSB’s commitment to the attainment of social justice and the improvement of quality of life of women with visual impairment in recognition of their unique circumstances and how HIV risk infection is heightened in this sub-population group.
Geographical Areas Covered
The organisation targets people with visual impairment in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. Its head office is in Johannesburg. In Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal the organisation caters to both rural and urban areas, whereas in Gauteng it is predominantly urban areas.
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