Technology can advance rights of the blind, says Minister Masutha

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha says technology can play a critical role in advancing human rights, including those of the blind and visually impaired.

When the radio was invented, no one had blind people in mind and it was probably not intended to facilitate information for blind people but it did exactly that. When the tape recorder was invented, I don’t think it was intended for blind people, but I got through my two law degrees in varsity through such technologies, technological advancement is therefore critical in advancing human rights, said Minister Masutha.

The Minister, who is also partially sighted himself, expressed these sentiments on Thursday at a fundraising gala dinner for 22 special public schools for the blind.

The fundraising gala dinner was in partnership with the South African National Council for the Blind.

The Council’s Education and Social Inclusion Manager, Chris Budeli, said the funds and pledges raised would go a long way in improving the lives of blind students.

Budeli expressed that a key issue for many blind schools was the aging infrastructure at many of the schools. He explained that this hampered what many might consider basic tasks, such as walking.

What you often find in these schools is that to combat the aging infrastructure, corrugated iron is used to roof the building. When it rains, the noise the rain makes on corrugated iron can make a blind man lose his direction, because we rely so heavily on others senses such as sound.

Several donations and pledges were made in the form of money and services. Information technology company, the Black IT Forum, donated R5 million worth of technologies, which will be spread over a three-year period.

In terms of the broad economic transformation agenda, companies in the ICT sector must spend a sizeable amount of their turnover on ICT related programmes such as training and equipment. The money therefore comes from the multi-national corporations in this sector, said Black IT Forum President Mdu Mkhonza.

Acting Correctional Services Commissioner James Smalberger said the department trains offenders in various skills and pledged offender labour, which is free to assist the schools where necessary.

Donations raised at the event will help to improve resources such as braille textbooks, Perkins braille machines, desktop magnifiers, braille embossers and hostel and school fees among others.

The Minister, who is also an advocate with two law degrees under his belt, said he owed his success to schools such as Siloe School for the Blind, where completed his primary and secondary studies between 1972 and 1984. It is at this school where he laid the foundation for his future.

Technology aiding the blind

In addition to special schools, the Minister punted the importance of technology, especially for blind learners.

When I studied at Turfloop in the mid-1990s, I remember a lecturer refusing for us to use our tape recorders in class because we were violating his privacy. This spurred me into mobilising the blind learners at the time to engage University Management so we could take notes using tape recorders.

Budeli said while technology exists, access to it is impeded by its cost. He made an example of a Braille pad, which is a laptop boosted with braille software technologies that cost R78 000 each.

Minister Masutha said while the technology is expensive, fundraising efforts such as these are vital to make sure that blind students fulfil the aspirations they dare to dream.

Four years into my job, my office staff still doesn’t know braille but through technology, they can produce braille for me. Through braille translation software, in a split second any document for a sighted person can be translated into braille.

The Minister reminded those in attendance that while the event is about assembling funds it was also about inspiring a vision.

If I could end up becoming a Minister, God knows what you could end up being if you put yourself to it, said Minister Masutha.

Donations to the special schools can be made still be made to the Council’s account:

Name of Account: South African National Council for the Blind

Bank: Standard Account Type: Current

Branch: Thibault Square

Branch Code: 051001

Account Number: 070508704

Ref: GALA2017

Source: South African Government News Agency