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Uganda – All we see is possibility

In Uganda, low vision children are generally treated in the same way as blind people. For example, they are not educated in maths and sports because those subjects would not be suitable for them. This is not necessarily because of ill will, but because of a lack of knowledge.

All we see is possibility

Special about Uganda is that the country does have a good infrastructure for the blind and low vision people:
  • a few low vision specialists are already working in hospitals,
  • a number of regular primary and secondary schools have units for students with a visual impairment,
  • there are teachers who have been trained to teach them,
  • and - as our own research showed - parents are willing to pay for extra support.
So there is a system. But above all, the point is that little comes from that system in real life. There is little cooperation and children for example are not being referred. One of the most important spearheads of the programme is bringing stakeholders together to work together on that system. That is where the challenge lies. And that is also where we see opportunities!

Major steps forward

In 2015, we at Visio accepted that challenge. We work closely with a large number of stakeholders, including young people who themselves have a visual impairment, their parents, universities, schools, ministries and other international organisations such as ours. Major steps forward were taken, including the following:
  • Parent meetings have been organised. Some parents still send their children with a visual impairment to a traditional healer. By bringing them together, they learn from each other and from each other's experiences.
  • Programmes have been set up to teach young people with a visual impairment to stand up for themselves, to know that they matter too and that they, too, have prospects for a future.
  • Teachers have also been trained. In how to recognise visual impairments, how to take young people with visual impairments in their class into account and how to transfer their knowledge to colleagues (train the trainer).
  • There are more ophthalmic clinical officers (OCO’s) trained in doing low vision assessments. They have received good test material to do this.
  • There was no central issue point for devices (low vision devices). That place has now been assigned, in one of the hospitals.
  • Ten schools have invested in a resource room. A space especially made available to young people with a visual impairment. Devices have been purchased for this purpose, including computers with magnification and speech, Braille printers and CCTv’s.
  • Kyambogo University develops special modules for teachers. Those modules are about teaching visually impaired people and the adjustments that you can make in the classroom yourself.
  • Meetings are organised where professionals from the field and responsible authorities from ministries and local authorities come together. It is partly in thanks to those meetings, that a sustainable system is now being worked on in practice to support people with visual impairments.

What is the challenge in Uganda for the coming years?

Major steps have been taken. And the great thing is that those steps are taken together. A shift is taking place very slowly: the islands that existed before are drifting towards each other and are sometimes already sliding into each other. Care for young people with a visual impairment is becoming a system that also works in the field.

However, that system is still vulnerable. The biggest challenge is to safeguard, strengthen and expand the gained ground. The past three years the focus has been on secondary school students. The plan is also to allow primary school children to get into that system. That requires research and gathering data, which requires new forms of cooperation. But we have faith that that battle will be won also, because all we see is possibility ...