EMPOWERING THE DISABLED
REACHING GOALS BY CREATING OPPORTUNITIES
Thanks to government's policy of equal rights for disabled people in the workplace, the South African Post Office employs 742 people with disabilities out of its total of about 16 000 permanent workers. Recently, 13 blind and partially sighted people got jobs at the Post Office.
Some of the blind people are working in the customer call centre and some in the administrative section. After being trained as call-centre agents at the South African National Council for the Blind, they got on-the-job training at the Post Office.
Those who work at the call centre are responsible for answering customers' questions and helping to sort out problems.
To help some of the blind workers do their jobs, the Post Office bought special computer technology. A computer programme known as JAWS was put into the computers of the totally blind workers. The tool reads out all the information on the computer screen.
A programme cal-led Zoomtec, was put into the computers of partially sighted workers. It enlarges the size of the items on the computer screen,
All the blind, as well as partially sighted workers, also get special headphones. These enable them to listen to the caller and the computer at the same time.
One of the blind workers, Lazarus Muthimba, says this job has changed his life. "I have realised that I can do the same things normal people do. I'm doing the same job and I am never left behind. This opportunity has built my confidence," he said.
Muthimba, who has completed a degree in Communication Science, said he has been searching for a job for the past three years. "I sometimes felt that companies were discriminating against me because I told them in my CV that I am blind. Maybe they thought they would get into trouble if they employed someone like me who might not be able to do the job," he said.
Muthimba said his job at the Post Office was giving him the experience he needed to make progress in his future career. It is serving as a step towards reaching his goal of working in the communications field.
- Muzi Mkhwanazi
Turn off your computer, including the computer screen, when you are not using it
DREAM HOUSE: A VISION FOR THE BLIND
"Your dream - our vision" is the slogan for Dream House Workshop for the Blind in Pretoria. On seeing the work that is done there, this slogan comes to life. One is surprised at the beautiful items created by blind and disabled people. The furniture and other cane items made by blind workers are so precise that you may think sighted workers made them.
With financial support from government, the Dream House Workshop for the Blind has existed for 79 years. Looking at how many blind and disabled people have benefited from working at Dream House, government has made a very important investment.
About 114 people work at Dream House. Most are blind, but some have other disabilities.
The grant from government helps to create a fair payment system for the workers. It is used to add on to their income. The payment system at the workshop is based on reaching certain performance standards.
Because of the different kinds of disabilities, all the workers cannot achieve the same standards. For example, partially blind workers can perform above those who are totally blind. Government's grant is used to supplement the wages of workers who are more disabled than others and are unable to earn the minimum wage per day.
The workers gather every day in their large workshop to make a number of different products from cane. When visiting the workshop and watching them work, one is amazed at how the blind workers go about their jobs using only their hands to guide them.
The products they make include bedroom furniture, bar stools, coffee tables, dining room furniture, television trolleys, children's furniture, lounge chairs, mirrors, stoep furniture, baskets and blinds.
Dream House managing director, Ms Emmie Boshoff, said they sell their products at the workshop and at other outlets. They make about R14 million per year and the money is shared with their staff.
The workshop started as a charity organisation but they now operate as a business in the true sense of the word. "Being blind or disabled does not mean that life is not worth living and it certainly does not mean that such people cannot earn a living. Their beautiful products are proof that they are also entitled to live better lives," Boshoff said.
- - Muzi Mkhwanazi
Don't leave appliances on the stand-by setting; switch them off completely at the wall