The Blind and Visually Impaired learners from Saint Francis Catholic Academy (secondary school) are all accommodated in two different hostels, one for girls and one for boys. Hostel-life plays an important role in helping the visually impaired achieve mobility and to receive skills which will help them to integrate into society; indeed all the boarders participate in every-day tasks such as cleaning and washing dishes, therefore preparing themselves for future independence.
Life in the hostels begins early in the morning with prayer. Many of the children come from far and there is an emphasis on creating a warm welcoming and home-like atmosphere. Each hostel has spacious bedrooms, a TV room, a prayer room(secondary school hostels), a study room and a sitting room. There are many planned activities such as assisted afternoon studies, games, hobbies and music lessons. The hostels are also well equipped with learning support materials specifically for the visually impaired learners, like a reading magnifier, a reading scanner and computers (secondary school hostels).
The absence of vision can profoundly affect the motor skills of children. It is therefore important that the visually impaired are encouraged to be physically active and explore their own bodies in space. Sporting activities create a sense of independence and autonomy and generate physiological, sociological and psychological benefits.
When young visually impaired children first come to the school they have sessions at the Rehabilitation centre. Here their muscle condition and co-ordination is assessed and a programme of exercises and games is followed. The older children are encouraged to play Goal-Ball, a team sport devised for the blind. Yearly the learners from the Centre are selected for national championship tournaments in the category of Goal-Ball and athletics.
Orientation and mobility
One of the main aims of any centre serving the visually impaired is to help them to attain a degree of safe and independent mobility. The Centre employs an orientation and mobility specialist, a scarce commodity in South Africa. She helps both partially and blind learners with orientation around the school premises. Low vision learners are trained to make use of their remaining sight effectively and safely applying mobility techniques. All learners are taught to be familiar with the inside and outside of their hostels, classes, dining hall, library, etc. and they are also trained to walk around the school premises safely and independently applying mobility techniques and using tactile maps correctly. They are also taught the use of a long cane, skills for daily living, protective techniques and pre-cane skills.
On Saturdays learners train in unfamiliar environments outside the school. They are taught rural and town travel – how to use public transport and how to cross traffic lights, stop signs, street crossings, how to go about shopping, as well as be able to use facilities inside the mall such as elevators, escalators, stairs, revolving doors and ATM’s.
The mobility specialist also conducts workshops for staff members and sighted learners which address prejudices and misconceptions about blindness. Participants are given ideas on how to guide and support the visually impaired. In addition they are given information about the causes of blindness, common eye diseases that lead to blindness and the prevention of blindness. These workshops also look at factors that affect low vision people and mobility training. These include a lack of family support, religious and cultural beliefs and psychological factors such as depression, low self-confidence, stress and emotional and social problems.