DESPITE many visually-impaired people making strides in becoming self-sustaining members of society, they continue to be discriminated against and marginalised.
The Lesotho National League of the Visually Impaired Persons (LNLVIP), which advocates for the rights and well-being of Basotho with eyesight challenges, will this month hold awareness campaigns targeting government agencies and other stakeholders. In this wide-ranging interview, LNLVIP President ‘Mabataung Khetsi speaks with Sunday Express reporter Limpho Sello about the awareness campaign and other related issues.
SE: What are some of the challenges visually-impaired people face in their daily lives?
Khetsi: Most people who are visually-impaired are not treated with respect. In some instances, relationships break down because of the stigma associated with blindness. There have been many cases where either a wife or husband walks out of a marriage when their partner loses their eyesight. Even when a spouse does not walk away, sometimes they end up disrespecting their visually-impaired partner by assuming that they have become redundant. The other challenge is the lack of reading material in Braille which results in illiteracy and consequently unemployment. Joblessness among the visually-impaired is a huge problem, yet we have skills and are educated. We are also discriminated against in the communities we live and it is very disheartening since we did not choose to be blind and it is a condition that can affect anyone.
SE: What causes blindness and how can it be prevented?
Khetsi: The leading causes of blindness include complications of diabetes, infections, cataracts, glaucoma, injury, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS complications and the inability to obtain spectacles. The prevention of blindness is very difficult because, in most cases, it is caused by the aforementioned diseases. What can be done is making sure that people manage their illnesses well so that they don’t affect their eyesight. Expectant mothers need to make sure they get antenatal care regularly so they can be screened for infections that could cause blindness to the unborn child. Babies also need to be treated for jaundice which causes blindness.
SE: What can a newly visually-impaired person do to continue with their life?
Khetsi: Such a person would need to undergo a rehabilitation process where they will be counselled and encouraged not to give up on life. It’s a process which requires self-acceptance and determination to live. Our organisation exists for the reason of helping such people to cope with life after becoming blind. There is life and opportunities for blind people.
SE: What services does your association offer to the visually-impaired community?
Khetsi: We provide rehabilitation services to the visually-impaired and their families because the latter are also affected and need to know how to treat a blind person. We also provide life skills training and engage in awareness campaigns on the issues affecting visually-impaired people.
SE: Since the founding of LNLVIP in 1996, are there any positive stories as a result of your awareness campaigns?
Khetsi: Yes there are. Many people who have been directly or indirectly affected by visual impairment now understand that it does not mean the end of life. They know that they can still have ambitions and goals like able-bodied people. After all, disability in not inability!
SE: How has the government and other stakeholders supported your organisation and its members?
Khetsi: The support LNLVIP gets from the government and other stakeholders is promising, but more needs to be done.
SE: Tell us about your awareness campaigns and what you hope to achieve?
Khetsi: We started holding awareness campaigns in 1993, and in one of our conferences we decided to hold our own events without the backing of international agencies. The campaigns sensitise the public on the causes of blindness and the steps people can take to move forward if they lose their eyesight.
SE: Why is it important to hold these awareness campaigns in the month of March?
Khetsi: Raising awareness is an important part of our work as an organisation. We do it all the time, but in March the campaigns are more concerted than in any other month. We target certain districts and community councils as well as schools and churches. We want to prevent blindness and therefore we understand that people have to know what causes it and the measures they should take.
This week, we are going to address Police Training College recruits because they will soon be police officers. We want to educate them on how they can look after a visually-impaired people in the communities. We know that some police officers lost their eyesight and were relieved of their duties as a result. The awareness campaign is meant to conscientise the powers that be at the police that they can rehabilitate their employees and relocate them to departments where they can excel without sending them home.