The special fund for blind workers and entrepreneurs was launched to assist those who had been working in sheltered and protective workshops, and who are now without jobs due to the lockdown regulations. Some ran their own micro-businesses such as piano tuning, basket weaving and building cane furniture, as well as bead and leather work.
The lockdown laws have been a big setback for Blind SA and the skilled workers who were trained under the Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) programme. The SIYB programme, accredited by the International Labour Organisation and kickstarted by Blind SA, is an entrepreneurship model designed to create small business opportunities for blind and partially sighted people.
Tommie Lehmkuhl, chairperson of the economic empowerment committee for Blind SA, explained that most blind and partially sighted people have low skill and literacy levels.
“A very small percentage have formal education and even less tertiary education, and this is testament to the fact that the education system has failed this section of the public. For this reason, we at Blind SA have realised that trying to place people in formal employment in this current environment is a non-starter, and therefore we embarked on this entrepreneurship model where we will rather try to empower people,” he said.
“Of course, the lockdown came and thwarted the efforts of those people earning a living. They are not able to go to the places where they manufacture these items and they are not able to sell because of lockdown and social distancing. The people in sheltered workshops have not been able to go to work so they are now completely dependent on their disability grant. The lack of income is very serious. So Blind SA has decided to launch this fund to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The fund will primarily be used to replace income lost during the lockdown.
Blind SA CEO Jace Nair said the NPO itself had committed R20,000 to the fund and was appealing to the corporate sector, the department of small business development, the department of trade and industry and the department of women, youth and persons with disabilities to support the emergency fund.
Nair said that government needs to ensure that blind and visually impaired learners have access to textbooks and readers, particularly during the lockdown, and that “all online training material is made available in accessible formats”.
Nair’s call to government to ensure accessible learning materials echoes the recent statement issued by the World Blind Union on World Book and Copyright Day 2020, which Blind SA endorsed.
The statement by the World Blind Union reads in part: “We are calling on governments, educational institutions, service providers and other stakeholders, to ensure that the material made available electronically, such as books, Covid-19 related and other information, and online schooling are fully accessible to all. Parents, guardians and teachers who are blind or partially sighted need to have fully accessible information and material so that they can provide adequate support to their children and students. Students who are blind, partially sighted or otherwise print disabled must have fully accessible information and material to allow them an equal opportunity for learning alongside sighted peers at their level.”
Blind SA has been at the frontline of support for the Copyright Amendment Bill which makes provision for accessible reading materials for the blind and visually impaired. The NPO is advocating for President Cyril Ramaphosa to sign the bill into law which will allow for copyrighted reading materials to be made accessible to the blind and visually impaired.
The bill amends the Copyright Act of 1978, which does not make provisions for people with disabilities. The blind, and others, are unable to read or listen to a book without first getting copyright permission for the work to be made accessible in Braille or other applicable formats.
The bill has been in the president’s in-tray since last year and it’s unclear when it will be signed into law. DM
In order to donate to Blind SA’s emergency find for blind and partially sighted entrepreneurs struggling to survive during lock down contact [email protected] or SMS 45345
"Speech, the most specifically human sound, and the most significant kind of sound, is never just scenery, it's always event." ~ Ursula Le Guin