Today was an absolute revelation to me. I’ve received a lesson in schooling from an environment that many of us simply ignore or know nothing about.
If I told you that on average in first world countries 9% of the population has some degree of deafness, would you believe me? Would you further believe me if I told you some 3,6 million South Africans fall into this category? Would you believe me if I told you we have few institutions country-wide servicing the needs of the deaf? Would you believe me if I told you that the absolute standard bearer for the cause of the deaf is the National Institute for the Deaf (NID) in Worcester? Would you believe me if I told you this institution is more than 100 years old and in 2013 rendered services to over 1000 persons directly and a further 5300 indirectly? All of this is absolutely true.
Let me tell you about the NID. The main campus is situated in central Worcester and caters for numerous departments and services:
- The NID Academy, which strives to improve the quality of life of those with hearing loss through services that include interpreting, training, disseminating and particularisation of information, as well as social and therapeutic support,
- The NID College, which offers accredited vocational education and training in Hospitality studies, Beauty and Cosmetology, Construction, Upholstery, ECD, Computer skills, Jewellery manufacturing and Agriculture,
- Deaf ministries training, where persons are trained to render services to the deaf community of Southern Africa,
- Multiple-disabled deaf adult care, a mini village with care and support to multi-disabled deaf adults with particular requirements in residential care and protective workshops,
- Deaf elderly care, similarly set up to deal with the needs of the deaf elderly person, and
- Business Training Units and maintenance services, which include a Nursery, Tea garden, Beauty salon, Laundry service, maintenance and accommodation services.
I was absolutely astounded to see how the deaf, despite been generally seen as disabled, are able and more than capable of holding their own in the mainstream. The quality of the work produced and to which I was exposed, was nothing short of breathtaking. In fact, it is a stark testament against the notion that the disabled cannot be productive citizens.
Under the dynamic leadership of Deon de Villiers, himself a custodian of the cause of the Deaf, this facility, virtually completely funded from private and donor funds, is doing such groundbreaking work. I was mesmerised (and ashamed) that a visit to this facility has shown me how much we still have to achieve in the mainstream school environment. They understand the acute needs to develop the skills of their learners, the need to facilitate learning and mastery of the curriculum, inclusion and the use of technology in a blended way to emancipate their clients. They understand the need for life-long learning. They understand the concept of preparing the learner from cradle-to-the-grave. They understand the art of possibility. In a nutshell, they know how to prepare learners to face the demands of the modern world in spite of their disabilities.
You see, their learners are deaf, not stupid! Their learners are challenged, not incapable! All they ask is for the rest of us to apply the audi alterem partem rule - i.e. HEAR OUR SIDE! And if we do, we may discover that the deaf too can "hear" and speak!