Helping the blind to achieve equality

2010-05-21
THE PUNCH Newspaper- Olunike Asaolu

A day hardly passes by without people making reference to this expression, “If the blind leads the blind, both of them will end up in a ditch.” To them, blind people cannot do anything meaningful to better their lives. But a visit to the Nigeria Society for the Blind, a vocational training centre, Oshodi, Lagos, will definitely prove them wrong.

In fact, this expression has become a cliché and irrelevant to the visually impaired who have found succor at this centre. They are not only led aright, their teachers, who are also blind, impact knowledge into them. These devoted teachers, whose life and experience have transformed the lives of their pupils, also render sacrificial services in ensuring that their pupils become responsible members of the society.

According to a visually impaired lecturer at the School of Special Education for the visually impaired, Federal College of Education, Oyo Special, Mr. Adeleke Ayoku, the expression is not valid, adding that the belief of people is that without sight, one cannot not do anything. “Many people still don‘t believe that there is ability in disability. Today, a lot can be done to overcome the problem of sight. That is why we talk about rehabilitating these people by giving them education and life skills that will make them become self-reliant. Once a blind person has access to information, he cannot mislead others.”

When our correspondent visited the centre on Wednesday, Ayoku’s position was justified, as blind pupils were taught how to become useful citizens. At the centre, various teaching techniques are adopted to ensure that the students are educated either academically or vocationally. Many of them who thought the end had come after losing their sight have now found education as the light.

Some of them who had been locked up for years, perhaps due to the ignorance of their parents who had given up on them, found solution at the centre through advertisements or their doctors’ recommendation. Indeed, many of them became skilled in the use of Braille and typewriters within four months of training. Also, they can move about and do their daily chores without any assistance. Indeed, one will hardly know they are blind, but for the teaching methods, which are quite different from that given their sighted counterparts. They use the Braille and tape recorders for note taking.

Besides academics, some of them are trained vocationally. This set of students are skilled in the weaving of baskets of various kinds, chairs, trays, shopping bags, hand bags, aso-oke, tie-and- dye, poly products, soap making, wooden flower vases and many more. These art works are very beautiful. If you don‘t see them working with their hands, you will not believe that visually impaired persons made them. The art works are neatly displayed at the entrance of the centre.

Also, they are encouraged to participate in recreational activities. The centre organises inter-house sports for them annually. They also have literary and debating society, which aids their self-confidence and social interaction skills.

Many of them have a lot to say. A partially sighted Olawale Adekoya said the centre has transformed his life. He started having problem with his sight in 1989 when he was in primary three. He had been to many hospitals, yet without solution. In 2006, he went for surgery for shifting of the lens, which later got worse after the operation. He said, “My sight did not improve despite the operation and all the drugs I used. Then, somebody advised that I should go on fruits, which I have been taking instead of drugs. And I have noticed some improvement; I can see partially.”

To improve his lot, Adekoya, a former trailer driver with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, enrolled at the centre. “My coming to this centre has changed my life. I can now do what I could not do before. I can communicate and relate very well with people. I wish to go back to school after the two-year training, he said.”

Another pupil at the centre, a graduate of the Federal College of Education, Ogun State, Oluwadamilola Otubaga, narrated how she lost her sight in 2006. She said, “After I was diagnosed of typhoid fever, I noticed that my sight was becoming blurred. The first time I got out of my sick bed, I couldn‘t see very well; it was as if I was looking through a polyethylene bag. I went to an eye clinic at a general hospital, but I was not attended to very well. Later, one of my colleagues in the office directed me to one Catholic hospital, where I underwent a series of tests, and from where I was referred to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, where I was told I had a brain tumour, a growth in the brain, which was the cause of the defect in my vision. After the operation and treatment, I was told my vision would be restored gradually. I am still hopeful that this will come to pass one day.”

Otubaga, who was a teacher at Ansar-Ur-Deen Primary School, Ode-Remo, Ogun State, before her blindness, commended the centre for the efforts it has made to rehabilitate the visually impaired. “I really appreciate this centre for giving our lives a meaning. If not for this centre, I will still be sitting down at home doing nothing. But with what I have learnt here, after the two year-training, I will go back to class to teach.”

A former trainee and corps member at the centre, who craved anonymity, described the centre a good project. “It is working and trying to impact on the lives of the visually impaired with one skill or the other, either academically or vocationally. It is a good initiative. They are getting better and better by the day.”

Taking these people back to the elementary level has not been easy, as it involves much persuasion and encouragement. According to one of the visually impaired teachers at the centre, Mrs. Omotoke Tijani, to cope with the visually impaired adults is not easy.

“They are not easily convinced that they could learn anything now that they have lost their sight, especially for those who are educated and working in big organisations before blindness struck. When they come here, it takes us a lot of time before we can bring them down. Once they meet the person who has been in that condition for long and he is making it, they begin to have a change of attitude. It is then they pay attention to whatever you want to teach them,” she said.

On the kind of teaching techniques adopted, Tijani, who is married to a blind man, said, “I use my life experience to teach them. I tell them how I strove to get to where I am and what I am still going to achieve. It takes somebody who has undergone special training to teach and impart knowledge to the blind.”

Ayoku the lecturer said it’s only teachers with special education and training that could teach these people.

“We adopt the individualised teaching method. We teach them one by one. That is why it is necessary to have small class size where each of the pupils will be well attended to.

“We also teach them how to use the typewriter and the computer, which has a software installed for them. It is called Job Access With Speech. This software reads their work for them. Those who are not academically inclined are given vocational training,” he said.

Talking about the objective of the centre, the principal, Mr. Idowu Ogunsiji, said it was established with the motive of taking away blind people from the street; to discourage street begging; and to enable them to be independent, self-reliant, and able to live their own life by not becoming a burden to the society.

On admission, Ogunsiji said, “We do conduct interview for admission. We need to know if they are fit and will be able to cope. This is because there are people who have other handicapping conditions with their sight problem. Here, it is only the visually impaired that can be admitted because we don‘t have facilities for those who have other challenges. It is from this interview, we know those that will go for vocational training though we do the generally training in the first year. Thereafter, they go into their specialised areas. Certificates of proficiency are awarded based on what they have learnt.

“In the first year, we charge them N40,000 per annum, and N10,000 for equipment. In the second year, they only pay N40,000 for tuition, which means a total of N90,000 is paid for the two-year course. We run January to December session, in three terms,” Ogunsiji disclosed.

When asked what they would do after the two-year training, Ogunsiji said, “After graduation, the centre still equips them to get them established. For instance, those who went through vocation are given some materials that they can start with. For the academically inclined, we give them materials as well. For those who dropped out of school because of their blindness, we integrate them back into the regular school. They only need special teachers and their materials. There is a support we give annually for those in higher institutions. We have the after-care service that takes care of this. We still follow them up. We have also organised a micro credit scheme that will take care of our graduates after leaving the centre.”

Ogunsiji, who identified funding as a major challenge, called on companies, corporate bodies, and individuals to support the centre.

 

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