According to the Life Healthcare group about 97% of blind and partially sighted people in South Africa are unemployed.This is due to their conditions which prevent them from entering the mainstream economy. The prevalence of vision impairment in the country is the highest of all disabilities, and is estimated at 32%.In pursuit of getting blind and partially sighted people into the mainstream economy, the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB) is collaborating with the Life Healthcare group for training and skills development of blind and partially sighted people. This collaboration has been ongoing for the past two years. To fast-track the process, the parties launched a computer laboratory at the Bartemia School for the Deaf and Blind in Thaba Nchu on Friday (14/02). The laboratory is the second in the Free State, with another located at the Thiboloha School for the Deaf and Blind in Qwaqwa.The laboratory at the Bartemia School is equipped with 20 computers that are speech-operated and have adaptive software for visually impaired users. Modiri Matshwane, the national executive director of the SANCB and principal of the Optima College, said the 20 enrolled students would be equipped with basic computer skills, enabling them to enter the mainstream and better their lives. Matshwane is an alumnus of the Bartemia School.Bhavanisha Chanderparsadh of SANCB fundraising and marketing, said: “The computer laboratory will help create a level playing field and equip the visually impaired students with computer skills that will allow functionality in all levels of life, not just the work environment.” Matshwane said the computer laboratory already has a positive impact on the lives of the first group of 20 students who graduated at the Optima College centre at the Bartemia School. The college has appointed highly experienced and equipped programme facilitator Sanny Mhopo for the training of students at the Bartemia School centre.Gobusamang Ntandiso is one of the graduates trained by Mhopo.“It helped us a lot. Computer literacy allowed us to read and write documents. It taught us workplace etiquette and opened job opportunities too. I really enjoy and love working with computers,” said Ntandiso.Successful graduates receive accredited certificates for a range of competencies, including operating a personal computer, managing files in a Graphical User Interface (GUI) environment, and using a GUI word processor to create and edit documents.Matshwane also donated computerised assistive devices for use by the students and staff at the Bartemia School. These include five small white canes for the foundation phase learners for orientation mobility, five liquid indicators, talking calculators, a talking blood pressure monitor, talking skipping ropes, a talking weighing scale, signature guides and money stick templates.Leburu Khunuo, the ward councillor, reminded everyone that the computer laboratory for training and empowering blind and partially sighted people was in line with the constitutional amendment to include the Bill of Rights, which guarantees equality before the law, and freedom from discrimination to all the people of South Africa, blind or not.