Smart cane unaffordable for the visually impaired

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Windhoek

The Namibia Federation of the Visually Impaired (NFVI) has requested financial assistance from the Ministry of Health and Social Services to purchase smart canes to enhance the mobility of visually impaired people and prevent them from bumping into objects. The new cane emits a beeping sound when it is moved near an object.
The new cane will help visually impaired people navigate more territory safely.

NFVI acting director Moses Nghipandulwa recently returned from the 8th African Blind Union and 6th African Forum conference in Uganda and brought back the smart cane for demonstration.

He explained that the smart cane works with batteries and is adjustable. It detects objects that are two or three metres away, gives off a sound and vibrates when the user is about to bump into an object.

“We brought back one for display. We have to tell the public about it and get assistance from the ministry to purchase it before we put in an order,” said Nghipandulwa, who added that the cane is “advanced” and the user feels more independent than when using the standard white cane.

Nghipandulwa said the cane sells for US$90 which is over N$1 100, but he says the price is unaffordable for many unemployed visually impaired people.

He further said that the NFVI would like the health ministry to pay for the smart cane and distribute it for free
“We can’t afford it, especially those who are unemployed. We get N$1 000 as disability grant and only those who are employed can buy it, while those who rely on the grant can’t afford it,” Nghipandulwa indicated, saying the grant money is used on other essential basic needs such as food.

He stated there is a huge interest in the smart cane after it was launched at the International White Cane Day held in Zambezi Region recently.

Giving feedback on his trip to Uganda, Nghipandulwa said the meeting focused on human rights projects for the visually impaired that Namibia has been chosen to implement for the next three years, which is inclusive of education, employment when it comes to people living with disability, and people living with disability accessing information in Braille. He further said the projects include having sign interpreters in clinics and government institutions and accessing buildings.

Nghipandulwa said the event was attended by 402 people from 56 countries from around the world. Five delegates from Namibia, living with visual impairment, attended the event.

The trip was sponsored by Ombaye Fishing Company, which availed N$30 000 while the National Youth Council sponsored N$10 000 for the trip.

Nghipandulwa further said the African forum looked at challenges they are faced in Africa. They looked at solutions, and people from different countries presented their obstacles, usage of modern technologies and education.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services public relations officer Esther Paulus explained that the ministry provides the service centre for the visually impaired with a monthly subsidy and the annual fee is about N$100 000. She said the ministry previously provided similar assistance – the cane – through the health directorate for visually impaired people in the regions.

“They can go to the regional health directorate and look for the rehabilitation officers and give their request to them and see if they have funds to procure such equipment they are looking for,” said Paulus, adding that if there are no funds they can budget for them the following financial year.

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