South Africa: World Sight Day is commemorated every year on the second Thursday of October to create awareness of the importance of having access to accessible, inclusive and affordable eye care.
This year it is commemorated under the theme “Love your eyes”. It is also an opportunity to create awareness about vision impairment, conditions that lead to blindness and preventative measures.
“When I got out of bed, I stepped into the water, and I didn’t know what was happening, As I walked through the water, it kept on getting deeper and deeper; I eventually got to the administrators and alerted her”, said by Ms Angela Drinkwater (65) a resident of JEP Home for the Blind in Berea, Durban after the residence was flooded during the KwaZulu-Natal floods in April 2022.
Ms Drinkwater would not have been able to find her way out of the flooded home had it not been for the orientation and mobility training she had received. Orientation and mobility training assists visually impaired people in getting around independently.
It focuses on the basic skills of daily living and how to effectively carry out tasks like identifying money and clothing, safely ironing, cooking, pouring drinks, and general housekeeping.
“For blind people, the white cane is an essential tool that gives the ability to achieve a full and independent life. It allows for free movement and safety from place to place, and access to this should never be questioned; orientation and mobility training enables visually impaired persons to enter any familiar or unfamiliar environment. And to function efficiently and independently”, said Deputy Minister of Social Development Mme Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu.
World Sight Day coincides with the International Day for Disaster Reduction this year. The recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal clearly illustrated the urgent need to make our disaster responses more disability-accessible if we are to build resilient communities and save lives.
The United Nations General Assembly in 1989 declared 13 October as International Day for Disaster Reduction to strengthen efforts in building a global culture of inclusive risk awareness and disaster reduction.
Effective tackling of natural disasters has much to do with governance. Disasters that strike without warning displace millions of people every year. One can measure good disaster-risk governance in lives saved, reduced numbers of disaster-affected people, and reduced economic losses. It, therefore, requires sustainable urban development management and a 365 readiness to respond quickly, targeting vulnerable families first, if we want to save lives.
The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development demands that we leave no one behind and that we do so by placing those who are last first. Persons with disabilities constitute the largest minority in the world. In South Africa, 7,4% of the population reported having a disability in the 2011 Census.
It requires us to do more and do better in reducing the vulnerability persons with disabilities, as equal citizens, experience during disasters by reducing the risk they are exposed to.
Such risks include reassessing where we locate residential housing, our readiness to evacuate those most vulnerable during disasters, and ensuring that reception centres are fully disability accessible. But, as Ms Drinkwater’s experience clearly illustrated, it also requires that we provide persons with disabilities with access to affordable and relevant rehabilitation services and assistive technology to maximise their independence.