The term of the Occupational Therapy Board of the Health Professional Council of South Africa (HPCSA) that was considering an application for registration made by the Orientation and Mobility Association of South Africa (“OMASA”) has ended. It is not clear if a new board has been reconstituted or whether the resolution taken by the old board has any binding effect.
The Department of Basic Education has indicated that they consider orientation and mobility training to be a necessary part of the right of learners with visual impairments to a basic education. However, professional posts for schools can only be created once the profession is registered with the HPCSA. OMASA made an application for the profession to be registered to the HPSCA on 27 October 2013.
The Occupational Therapy, Medical Orthotics, Prosthetics and Arts Therapy Board of the HPCSA issued a resolution agreeing to the registration in principle, but indicated that various other boards within the HPCSA would need to consider the application to ensure that there was no overlap with other registered professions.
“Visually impaired learners continue to suffer because of the State’s failure to provide posts for essential non-teaching staff at schools,” says Silomo Khumalo researcher at SECTION27. “The HPCSA, Department of Basic Education and Department of Social Development need to urgently prioritise the creation of posts for orientation and mobility practitioners at schools for the visually impaired and full service schools where necessary.”
Orientation and mobility training is a crucial component of the education and development of blind and partially sighted learners. It assists a visually impaired person to understand and navigate his or her place in an environment, as well as basic tasks, such as cooking, hailing public transport and identifying money.
Without orientation and mobility training, visually impaired learners do not acquire the skill of learning and adapting to environments, and risk injury when moving between places. This has the effect of depriving visually impaired learners of meaningful access to the right to education as envisaged in the South African Constitution.
SECTION27 has visited 20 of the 22 schools for the visually impaired in South Africa and has communicated consistently with all 22 schools over the past year.
“We have found that at least 14 of the 22 schools have no orientation and mobility instruction, and many schools have to make use of staff members who are not qualified as orientation and mobility practitioners,” says Khumalo.
The State is obliged to provide this training under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which South Africa has ratified, and envisages providing this training in Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Needs Education (2001).
Currently schools for visually impaired learners across the country are without orientation and mobility practitioners to the detriment of learners. Despite repeated following up by OMASA, SECTION27 and other stakeholders, there has been no information whatsoever regarding the developments of the registration in the almost two years since the application was made.
“It is unacceptable that scores of learners have gone through school without this essential service,” says Khumalo. “The Department of Basic Education must hold the HPCSA to account to ensure that visually impaired learners have equal access to their rights to a basic education.”
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