To be deafblind – Innovation for the Blind

Outside my office window a resident is patiently waiting for me to notice him and invite him inside. His work is done for the day, and he has now come for a quick visit. Jaco is deafblind. Even though he has some sight, it is not much. However, he is completely deaf. And yet, he is happy in his silent, dim world. Innovation for the Blind is his home and there are many people who love him!

Scientists claim that approximately 90% of what we learn happens through ‘accidental learning’. Think about all the phrases and social expressions children learn at school simply by watching others and listening. Everything a deafblind person knows, was taught to him or her by someone. Someone had to decide to teach the deafblind person, which often requires a great deal of effort.

Jaco is quiet and well-behaved. If you did not know him, you could easily think that he does not understand anything because he never asks questions or demands attention. He patiently waits for you to pay him some attention, just like he is waiting patiently outside my window – even in winter – for a brief visit before I go home. Over the weekend he pops in at the home of the head of the Metal Division. He sits there quietly, watches some TV and drinks a cooldrink before returning to his room at the home where he crochets or ‘looks’ at everything in the facility so that he can ‘tell’ us about this later.

Over the years, he and I have developed our own sign language. I am always sad that he never learnt sign language. He actually has an incredible ability to learn. Even though he is in his 40s and every critical period for development milestones has passed long ago, he still amazes me. Jaco cannot talk with words, but he can communicate a lot by the way he blows into my hair. Short staccato-like blows convey his excitement. A long, slow blow means he is sad. He can also write down his name (and mine andthat of his father). He can count and he understands the concept of dates and figures. A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a ‘broken’ cell phone to give to Jaco. The phone was still new, but the loudspeaker was broken, which of course did not bother Jaco. This opened a whole new world for him! We downloaded WhatsApp, thinking that he would maybe look at some pictures, but then he started to learn new things. He video-called me in the evenings to check if I was still at the office or at home. 

He could call his mother, father and sister when he got homesick. Even though he cannot talk, at least he could see what they were doing, which made him part of their lives. Even with his little sight is has become a stalwart in the Metal Division where he works. His divisional head soon realised that this young man is clever and that his work is accurate. Over the years, the head took the engineering drawings of the parts to be manufactured to Jaco and showed him where and how to drill. One day, the head took too long to Jaco’s liking.

Next thing, Jaco was already drilling holes. The head got quite a fright – steel is expensive, and the Metal Division took pride in preparing the parts for their clients within the pre-set deadlines. Mistakes cost money and time. However, the head was hugely surprised that Jaco worked out the measurements perfectly as Jaco has been watching him for years! Jaco saved his pocket money for a couple of months to buy his own laptop. He was so excited when we returned from the shopping centre – he could not contain himself. He kept on blowing in my hair. Initially, I entered keywords on YouTube so that he could watch videos. One day, he brought me a picture of an airplane and asked me to write it down. Determined, he looked for the letters on the keyboard. The airplane was just the beginning. He now manages to search for a variety of videos about things in which he is interested.

There seems to be no end to his talents and eagerness to learn. With his little sight we have development a code language, and he likes to help me in the office. If I tap my foot on the floor twice, he would jump up and come to my table – he can feel the vibration through the floor. I would then use one of our signs and he would run to the printer to fetch my printing or even take my documents to scan them. There are so many Jaco stories I would like to share. At Innovation, he enriches our lives with his sweet nature, contentedness and infectious excitement when he has learnt something new. What a joy and privilege to have him in our lives!

Badisa Programme, Innovation for the Blind, CEO: Stephnè Botha

Source: Badisa Annual Report 2023, Page 47