In 2013, an Orientation & Mobility practitioner found a fourteen year-old child in a cot in a tiny, rural, South African village. The child had been born blind, and the family thought that blindness meant that the child would not be able to do anything for himself. This child had not been taught to crawl and walk, or how to feed or dress himself. The family had done what it thought best for the child, and had kept him in the safety of his cot for all of his life.

It is stories like this that inspire the College of Orientation & Mobility to do everything in its power to train more O&M practitioners, who can potentially reach between 40 and 50 people with visual impairment every year. In only 6 of the 22 schools for the blind, are there O&M practitioners. These 22 schools cater to the needs of only a fraction of the estimated 70 – 80 000 school-going-aged children with visual impairment. Thousands of children who are visually impaired are leaving school every year without ever having benefitted from the services of an O&M practitioner, and hundreds of thousands of adults who are visually impaired are battling, on a daily basis, to safely carry out daily skills of living, and to move about safely and independently on their own.

Our founding: the College, a division of the S A Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind (GDA), came into being 40 years ago. Ken Lord was Executive Director of the Association at the time, and he realised that a service complementary to Guide Dogs was required if the needs of all South Africans with visual impairment were to be met. The college was established in 1974 to train practitioners from all over South Africa, and to date, 202 students have enrolled, and 152 have successfully graduated. This represents a success rate of 75%.

Our focus: We focus on providing professional, SETA-accredited training to as many student practitioners as there is funding for. Neither GDA, nor the College, receives government funding. The College is therefore reliant on other non-profit organisations identifying aspirant practitioners, and raising sufficient funding to cover the cost of that practitioner’s two-year course. The College also relies heavily on sponsorship and donations.

Our impact: Every practitioner that successfully graduates from the college can potentially reach approximately 40 people with a visual impairment every year. If each practitioner works for 30 years, the impact of the training offered by the College can potentially be felt by approximately 1 200 people with a visual impairment over the working life of a practitioner.

Our team:  We have a dynamic and dedicated team of professionals, all deeply committed to making a difference in the lives of those who are visually impaired. Some of the team have worked in the field of blind welfare for over 30 years.

Our strength: We have the backing of a respected Association that was founded in 1953. The Association is supported by corporate giants like Vodacom; ABSA and Nedbank; Monte Casino and SA Breweries; Porsche and Multichoice, to name but a few.

Our future: This lies in the hands of our supporters, who will make the future training of O&M practitioners possible. Six students embark ed on the two-year diploma course on 5 January 2015, largely supported by GDA. The Vodacom Change The World Initiative has generously offered some part-funding allocated to 2 learners for the first year. The Department of Health in Mpumalanga is also part-funding some learners for the whole course, and is offering employment at the end of their training.

Any funding to support learners on this two-year diploma course will continue to benefit the running costs of this very “hands-on” training. Blindfold work requires considerable facilitator input to ensure each learner’s safety and progression.