I was sitting in a Commuter Omnibus yesterday, lost in thought when the omnibus stopped at a traffic light. I was close to the window so I looked onto the pavement to observe the people in the street. My attention was drawn by a visually impaired man trying to navigate his way around. I could see it wasn’t easy for him; the pavement was marred by uneven surfaces, and visible holes. I was holding on to my seat fearful that he would fall into one of those holes but he went round them with such ease, I marvelled.
My heart was torn when he got to the end of the pavement and he started shouting “tibatsireiwo kupvuura mugwagwa vabaereki” someone please help me cross the road. I wished I could jump out of the Kombi to help him, but I was in public transport. I observed as people continued on their way, some with earphones on, so they couldn’t hear him and others who just couldn’t be bothered to turn back. Then one woman noticed him and turned back to help him, bless her heart.
Having observed this poor man, I finally understood why the white cane was invented. In 1921 James Biggs, a photographer from Bristol who was blinded after an accident and was uncomfortable with the amount of traffic around his home, painted his walking stick white to be more easily visible. The cane, in my view, was invented to ensure that the visually impaired are not dependent on anyone for things they can do every day. Visual impairment is not a death sentence; in fact many people have gone on to achieve greatness despite this disability.
In South Africa, having observed the problem of crossing roads, they invented a beeping sound for all pedestrian lights, so that the visually impaired know when it is time to cross. When the sound goes off, all cars stop until pedestrians have crossed.
In Zimbabwe however, the green light for pedestrians goes on at the same time as the cars going in the opposite direction, meaning that people have to negotiate with cars turning as well. The pavements and roads have so many open holes one could easily fall and break their leg. Those who are blind are therefore dependent on others to move around.
Our society has taken away the autonomy that the white cane gave visually impaired people. We have infringed their human dignity by failing to create a society where all can function. More disturbing is, we have lost the sense of Ubuntu to feel for one other and to strive to make life better so that we can all thrive, we have forgotten that “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” we are who we are because of others. They maybe visually impaired but we have all became blind to humanness.
God help us!