The Institute for the Blind could soon face closure because of the Department of Labour pulling the plug on funding and Lotto contributions and donations drying up, which could result in the 530 blind and disabled people housed at the Institute’s facilities literally living on the streets if substantial financial help doesn’t come soon to help with annual costs of over R51-million a year.
The Institute only receives 15% of its funding from the State and the Institute’s fundraising department is solely responsible for raising the balance of 85% of the total costs (R43 641 186).
This is according to Freddie Botha, Executive Head of the Institute for the Blind, who says that the sudden unexpected loss of a subsidy from the Department of Labour, which the Institute has been receiving for the last 20 years of the new dispensation and many years before that, is a big blow to the Institute, which was established in 1881 to empower persons who are blind, partially sighted or deaf-blind, including visually impaired persons with additional disabilities; by means of offering education, training, development and care towards a fulfilled life.
The R51-million annual running costs includes R29-million training services costs, caring services and administration, and over R18-million towards operating costs of the Institute’s production units, which provide employment for blind and visually impaired people.
The Institute also subsidizes the Pioneer School for the Blind (R4.2-million per year) which serves the needs of blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind learners as well as learners with multiple disabilities from pre-school, primary and secondary levels with specialized education needs not catered for by mainstream academic institutions.
“Support from the State for this very specialised education has been totally insufficient,” says global adventurer and motivational speaker Hein Wagner, who attended the Pioneer School for the Blind from the age of five, and is the Blind Institute’s newly appointed Brand ambassador tasked with helping raising awareness of the services on offer, the capabilities of people with visual impairments (Wagner made history last year as the first blind person to participate in the treacherous Antarctica marathon) and help with raising the much needed funds.
“After a fierce struggle the Institute has received only a share of the subsidy and has to submit a new application of funding to the Department of Labour, with no guarantee that the Institute will receive any funding in future,” he explains.
He adds that the securing of funding from the State for the Institute’s tertiary training unit have also been unsuccessful.
There are 1.2-million blind/partially sighted people in SA. The Institute for the Blind is also the only organisation in South Africa that offers the full spectrum of care, training and integration into special production units for multi-disabled persons. According to Wagner, the Institute has a long waiting list of persons with visual impairments that aspire to engage in the Institute’s employment units and skills training projects.
97% of persons with visual impairments are unemployed in South Africa. “If the Institute did not avail employment opportunities at its production facilities to persons who are visually impaired, this unemployment percentage would be even higher,” says Wagner.
“The ultimate aim of the Institute is to provide gainful employment to unemployed persons who are visually impaired in the Institute’s production units making them less dependent on grants. This could save the State an enormous amount a year in grants if these people could work and the money could be used to provide more training opportunities for persons who are visually impaired.”
Wagner points out that if the Institute is unable to provide employment through its production units and accommodation on the premises, these visually impaired persons will be literally standing on the street begging and their disability grants would be exploited by the people accommodating them.
“In addition, they would not receive skills training and medical care as currently offered gratuitously to them by the Institute,” he explains. “This training responsibility would therefore rest heavier on the shoulders of the Government which is not in the position to offer orientation and mobility training to persons with visual impairments, which would consequently lead to visually impaired persons being totally dependent on their families to care for them.”
An emotional Wagner says that with Government support now being pulled the situation is ‘beyond desperate’.
“Another huge challenge for us is the fact that although the products made at the Institute are of a high quality, many inferior products are now being imported, especially from China, which has had a disastrous effect on our production and profits.”
The fact that 97% of persons who are visually impaired are unemployed places a huge burden on the training facilities of the Institute to provide training to these persons from all over South Africa and Africa at a very low rate or even free of charge.
Wagner says that the Institute is now reaching out to various international aid organisations for help in an effort to avoid closure.
Wagner, who earlier this month won the SA Championships Blind Tandem Road Race (with team mate Alwyn de Kock) says that there are many remarkable individuals that have been schooled and housed at the Institute over the years who are living proof that despite challenges, with the right help anything is possible. “However, the bottom line is that there is no hope without help,” he adds.
As deaf-blind political activist/prolific author Helen Keller remarked: “The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people towards them.”
Author: Kisha van Vuuren from Tin Can PR.
More Info link: http://www.blind-institute.org.za
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Blind global adventurer and motivational speaker Hein Wagner, who attended the Pioneer School for the Blind from the age of five, and is the Blind Institute’s newly appointed Brand ambassador.