Reginald M J Oduor, PhD


In what follows, I seek to explain the crucial role that societies of professionals with visual disabilities can play in promoting professional excellence and greater social inclusion of persons with visual disabilities.

Rationale for Societies of Professionals with Visual Disabilities

In the countries of Africa today, very few persons with visual disabilities have completed university studies and joined the professions. Among the careers into which they have ventured are law, education and information technology. Yet in the fast-changing world in which we live, any community must rely heavily on its professionals for its survival and general welfare. This is even more true of marginalised groups such as the community of persons with visual disabilities. Professionals are highly regarded in society, mainly due to the fact that they possess specialised knowledge which opens the door to social and economic privilege. Consequently, professionals with visual disabilities can use their status as a powerful tool of advocacy for the rights and abilities of persons with visual disabilities in general.

Furthermore, in view of their considerable understanding of social and political processes, such professionals are best equipped to mobilise other persons with visual disabilities in pursuit of their rights in the political arena. Due to their relatively high social status and economic advantage, they can also play a pivotal role in the economic empowerment of their non-professional counterparts by supporting efforts at training and access to credit.

However, for professionals with visual disabilities to effectively play their role, they must themselves be adequately equipped to achieve professional excellence, thereby securing their place in the professional world. They would then not spend all their time simply trying to survive as professionals, but would have the time and energy to strategize for the promotion of the overall welfare of persons with visual disabilities.

Yet the challenge of effectively fulfilling professional responsibilities, achieving career growth and greater social inclusion is especially taxing to professionals with visual disabilities. This is due to a number of factors.

First, in many countries, the legal framework under which professionals with visual disabilities operate is indifferent, if not hostile to them. The work place, the transport system, institutions of higher learning and the political environment are all designed as though persons with visual disabilities do not exist. This means that their operational costs are much higher than those of their sighted colleagues, thereby making it difficult for them to compete effectively with their sighted counterparts.

Second, many professionals with visual disabilities suffer from inadequate facilities at work. They often cannot access basic material such as good Braille paper and Brailing equipment. Most alarming is the fact that the majority of them still know nothing about information technology in a world where the lack of such knowledge is fast becoming tantamount to illiteracy. Many of them have not heard of screen readers, scanning technology or Braille embossers. They have not heard that they can access huge amounts of information through the Internet and other electronic sources of information. Consequently, their professional output is much lower than it would otherwise be. Moreover, they find it very difficult to pursue further training, thereby being disadvantaged in the competitive professional world. The fight against discrimination of professionals with visual disabilities then becomes much more difficult to win. How can persons with visual disabilities effectively agitate for equal opportunities when they do not demonstrate the average achievements of their sighted counterparts?

Third, the unsatisfactory situation of professionals with visual disabilities is made worse by the dire lack of fora in which they can express their concerns and work towards addressing them. Advocates with visual disabilities need a forum in which they can exchange ideas on how to cope with a soft-spoken judge or with photographs presented as exhibits in court; teachers would greatly benefit from a network in which they can exchange views on how to handle class discipline; those in information and computer technology (ICT) need a setting in which they can share ideas on how to keep up with the latest developments in their field; university lecturers need a place where they can share ideas on how to conduct research and writing more effectively, and so on.

Many of the challenges confronting these professionals can actually be surmounted by the combined efforts of the professionals themselves through societies founded and run by them. They could jointly work out strategies to acquire items such as white canes, Braille watches and Braille paper, thereby getting discounts for bulk purchases. Those of them who are familiar with ICT could use the meetings of the society to share their knowledge with their counterparts with visual disabilities. In view of the exorbitant cost of adaptive technology, the professionals could also jointly purchase equipment such as computers, scanners and embossers for joint use. Such societies could also be used as lobby groups for the necessary legal and infrastructural changes in the countries of the professionals concerned.

It is crucial to bear in mind that democracy as currently practiced is a numbers’ game. Consequently, in view of the very small number of persons with visual disabilities in most professions, it seems prudent to have a single such society in each country. Each of the societies could then be organised in such a way that matters of common interest are discussed by all its members, while matters of specialised interest could be addressed in smaller units constituted by persons from specific professions. The various national societies could then network among themselves for greater national, continental and global effectiveness.

What is the Relationship between the Professional Societies and the Other Organisations of and for Persons with Visual Disabilities?

While there are various organisations of and for persons with visual disabilities, their objectives are not specifically geared to meeting the special needs of professionals with visual disabilities. Thus when such professionals try to articulate their concerns in such fora, some of their non-professional counterparts find it difficult to appreciate the problems, and are even tempted to view such concerns as “snobbish” and irrelevant. Such professionals therefore need a forum in which they can freely articulate their concerns and jointly work towards addressing them.

Some have wondered whether or not the societies of professionals with visual disabilities would not be rivals to the various organisations of and for persons with visual disabilities. Nevertheless, the struggle for full social inclusion of persons with visual disabilities is so demanding that the greater the diversity of approaches to it the better. The many Africans who have lived under decades of the stifling and stunting atmosphere of the one-party state should have little difficulty in appreciating the need for diversity.

Apart from promoting the all-round welfare of the professionals, these societies could also work with existing organisations of and for persons with visual disabilities in areas such as advocacy, economic empowerment and rehabilitation, thereby promoting the general welfare of persons with visual disabilities. In other words, these societies, if properly run, will be a resource rather than rivals to the other organisations of and for persons with visual disabilities.


In the light of the foregoing considerations, it is evident that there is need for Africa’s professionals with visual disabilities to form societies in which they can spur each other to career excellence as a means to greater social inclusion. Furthermore, the societies would also be a reservoir of much-needed intellectual and financial resources for the promotion of the welfare of persons with visual disabilities in general. Moreover, the emergence of such societies will increase the needed diversity in the organisations of and for persons with visual disabilities. It is time to channel adequate resources towards this worthy venture, with full confidence that the returns on this investment will be far-reaching.

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