Visually impaired still defy the odds

BLOEMFONTEIN – Forty-nine-year blind vagrant, Jeremiah Staat, is a common site at the northern entrance to Bloem Plaza. Many residents of Bloemfontein pass him by without giving so much as a hoot as to how the man actually ended up in this situation, where he has to rely on the generous for his survival. Every morning he commutes to town to place himself at the mercy of people visiting Bloem Plaza mall. Having been born with full sight, Staat lost his ability to see 23 years ago when he was involved in an accident that left one of his sensory nerves damaged.

“The doctors did everything they could to help me, but my case was and still is very complicated.  If they tried to undo the nerve damage, there were going to be complications of brain damage and there was also no guarantee of me fully regaining my sight,” he explained. Staat mentioned that he is still able to do everything he used to do, the only difference now being that he is blind.  In 1986, he went to Bartimea School for the Deaf and Blind and after finishing his studies, he decided to sing in the streets for money. Staat’s case is not an isolated one as several other disabled people are a common feature especially in the country’s towns. Some have been disowned by relatives and spouses leaving them at the mercy of strangers who drop a few coins into their begging bowls once in a while.

World Disability Month will this year be commemorated from 3 November and will go on until 3 December. Jane Rametse, an auxiliary worker at the Society for the Blind in Bloemfontein, does home visits and counselling, amongst other things.The society works with hospitals and local clinics to deal with partially or completely blind citizens. Rametse runs a support group under the society called Aganang Support Group which seeks to deal with daily adversities that those with visual impairments face. “To work with people with disabilities requires patience. The most rewarding thing for me is being able to help someone who comes to our society defeated and ending up being able to help themselves accept their situation,” said Rameste. Disability Manager in the Department of Social Development, Matu Mohale, said a lot of activities have been lined up for the Disability Month. “We will be doing door-to-door campaigns and summits and hope to change the lives of those who need assistance,” explained Matu Mohale.

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