JIS News

For the last 50 years they have been the eyes of Jamaica’s visually impaired and blind.
Their motto, “The worst thing is to be born sighted and lack vision” is emblazoned across the building of their headquarters; the first point of contact for passersby of the Jamaica Society for the Blind (JSB), on Old Hope Road in the Corporate Area.
The JSB is largely dedicated to helping persons who become blind or visually impaired during their adult years to adjust to their new status and offer community-based services.
Executive Director of the JSB, Virginia Woods says the Society offers programmes for rehabilitation in addition to counselling and orientation to help visually impaired persons adjust and acquire the skills necessary to move about whether with the aid of a white cane or if necessary, a sighted guide.
She points out that for persons who were once able to carry out their daily functions independently, losing their sight is often a major setback. “When you go blind you have to change the way you do things in the sense that you need to know now how to function, it’s a great loss to the person who has lost his/her sight at an adult age, so they will have to start learning how to adapt to the condition and also how to do things in a normal way but with different methods,” she notes.
Miss Woods says the gravity of the situation is somewhat alleviated because of the presence of various adaptive aids such as white canes, talking clocks and for the blind person who loves to cook there are measuring spoons, talking scales, or Braille scales.
The JSB, in the interest of catering to the whole person, offers Braille reading and writing, and computer training with up to 16 individuals being trained in basic computing in 2003. The facility also houses a library with books in Braille and large print for partially blind persons. Audiotapes are provided for persons who simply ‘want to listen’.For employment, Miss Woods says clients are encouraged to go into income generation such as pig rearing, poultry farming and buying and selling.
“What we do is to really help them to get their independence because many of these blind persons used to be the breadwinner of the family and they still have children to go to school,” she says.
The Executive Director says persons often approach the JSB after being informed about the organization by the University Hospital and the Kingston Public Hospital as well as from community or family members.
She tells JIS News that over the last five years 3,500 persons have benefited from the services of the JSB, but points out that this is still below par as there are over 23,000 blind and visually impaired persons in Jamaica.
She says this is largely due to the fact that there is limited staff and as such they are only able to train 38 to 40 clients per annum. Miss Woods indicates, that this is soon to change as the society plans to increase the number of field officers and care providers.
A number of persons who approach the JSB for training became visually impaired as a result of glaucoma, cataract and trauma. With respect to trauma, she says the numbers are increasing as more persons suffer eye injury as a result of “gunshots, car accidents, and stone throwing.”
Miss Woods says to promote better eye care and greater awareness the JSB has a prevention of blindness programme where regular vision screening is carried out in schools and health centres.
The JSB carries out its programmes through funding from the Government, donations from the public as well as fundraising activities. The facility does not dispense medication but has a small clinic, which benefits from the service of two doctors who provide voluntary service.
Activities to mark the JSB’s 50 years of service to the blind will begin in May of this year and culminate in June 2005.
March is observed as White Cane month.