After losing my sight, the next step was rehabilitation school meant to train me how to navigate as a blind person and re-integrate into society. That’s where I met Dennis and Quinter, among others who had also lost their sight. We all had different expectations and experiences which I will share here since most people do not usually know what to do when they lose their sight.
Eve’s Expectations of Rehab
I expected rehab to be a very serene environment, where I could go through therapy sessions to talk about the reality of losing my sigh and to help me process the emotions. At times I was angry, confused, and hopeless. I thought I would have someone who’s already dealt with what I was going through and knows how to help me process my emotions.
They told us we’ll be doing braille and I thought it would be as fun as learning a new language. Then I was to also do ICT and I’m like wow I didn’t even do this in campus and now I am going to learn al these new skills and do something really cool. This is big!
We were also to be taught activities of daily living, orientation and movement. I was like; okay, that sounds like they will be giving me life hacks on how to move as a blind person. (Due to my ignorance, I thought that moving around as a blind person and using the a white cane is a very advanced skill.) I thought of learning life hacks like knowing which machine/appliance would work better for a blind person, etc.
I imagined an environment where everything was consistent, with structure, conversations, and skill developing activities. Whatever skill you had before they could tap into that or maybe other talents that have nothing to do with sight and help you grow it and eventually they can connect you back to employment or incubate your project if you’re in business until it is self-sufficient.
Deno’s Expectations and of Rehab:
I expected to learn how to easier transition back to normal living. During my orientation, the head of rehabilitation told me: “here we do one-on-one tutoring so you’ll always have a teacher to teach you at your own speed so the faster you learn the easier it will it will be for you. You will get a sense of direction and navigate with the white cane. We’ll connect you back to the to the course you were doing back at school and more.
Quinter’s Expectation of Rehab:
I thought I would get special treatment like I did where I was back home where my hand was always held and most services were done by family. So I thought this would even be better. I was told that after rehabilitation there will be a channel to connect me back to my profession and even channel me into the appropriate area.
Deno’s Reality of Rehab:
I remember the first class was about using the Braille machine. Braille is divided into three parts: English Kiswahili and Maths. English has 29 parts in itself. Since the techs didn’t show up for most of the lessons, we resorted to pear-peer learning through fellow students.
One time I asked the teachers why they don’t show up for classes and he said: The reason we brought you to the adult class is so that you develop independence. Outrightly telling me to teach myself. During orientation we had a sighted tutor which I felt would have been done better with a blind tutor who better understands my experience.
There is even this joke we had where a sighted tutor would give us orientation tests and not understand why we don’t get it as fast and accurate as they would want. I felt like asking the sighted tutor to take a blindfold and do the test just to show him what my experience was like.
The cold bath water was intense but I also had to deal with bedbugs. The hostels used by students are private and the institution says that the hostel owners pass through a prequalified list of tenders that cannot be outsourced to other hostels.
Since you have no option, there is no subsidies on the charges which are too high compared to the value of service. It was about 10,000 a month for 6 people in a bedbug-infested room. I remember one day while battling insomnia due to the bedbugs, one managed to find it’s way into my ear and the first thing that came to my mind was what if I loos my hearing along with my sight too. Thankfully I managed to get it out.
Quinter’s Reality of Rehab:
The first time I landed at rehab, the person in charge of orientation was using terms I couldn’t understand as a newly blind person. When we alighted from the bus with other blind students, I was wondering how the instructors is going to guide all of us but all I heard was hold the shoreline. I didn’t even know what that was, I even thought it was either someone’s name.
Some of the sighted tutors would tell me to go west or walk straight not understanding why I loose degrees as I walk. Other blind students and tutors give better support. My hearing is also affected which makes one tilt their face while trying to listen to faint sounds.
Eve’s Reality of Rehab
It is heartbreaking the way they do the show you around during orientation and make you feel like you’re sorted but once they leave you are on your own. I walked into my small room and found four beds which I was to share with another student. The food was bad and the first-morning bath water was cold. I wanted to leave, then realised that this is how they have been running and no one has ever though of changing it.
My roommate, Quinter was the one who gave me an orientation of the institution. A week later is when I was given a Braille machine. The teacher who thought it would be great to keep a braille diary while I was only concert about getting my life back on track. Some of the sighted tutors were also very arrogant and had the attitude that we aren’t the first blind people so we have to catch up.
The teachers taught em the abcd in braille but it was another student, Deno, who taught me the rest of the alphabet.
You’re just there and no one cares. It is like you’ve been literally dumped. A personal tutor will come and teach you personally but it’s not consistent. You are already depressed and the life at the institution is worse than you just staying home. There was also no structure in how they taught. When you get stuck I will be back to mark. They also compared different students based on performance and when one joined. It was very demoralising.
We have mandatory group guidance and counselling sessions which don’t work as they should. We even had to ask if they are treating us as individuals or as a group of blind people. We all lost our sight in different circumstance, Deno’s was due to Meningitis, Quinter’s was due to an eye infection and mine was a blood clot. You can’t treat us the same since it affected us differently. We were all on different paths in our lives, I was running a business, Deno was finishing his degree, Quinter was just setting up her career and preparing for parenthood. Then we are all treated with one template without understanding the connection between learning and the personal stress we were still going through. For therapy, they hired interns which also didn’t work and the government doesn’t offer enough to cover therapy.