The League of the Friends of the Blind (Lofob) expressed concern about the state of orientation and mobility in South Africa on White Cane Safety Day.International White Cane Safety Day was marked on Monday 15 October. On this day, blind and visually impaired people celebrate the white cane as a symbol of independence and power for the freedom it brings to the lives of millions of blind and visually impaired persons across the world. The white cane is recognised as the international symbol of independence, and a sign of autonomy and respect for the inherent dignity of blind and visually impaired people.This is in line with Article 3 of the principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The white cane is also in line with the obligations stipulated under Article 9 of the CRPD on accessibility, Article 20 on mobility, and Sustainable Development Goal number 11 on accessible cities and human settlements. “While international legislature makes provision for this inherent human right and fundamental freedom, the League of Friends of the Blind (Lofob) cannot help but express concern on the affordability of white canes and the lack of trained orientation and mobility practitioners in South Africa,” says Lofob Orientation and Mobility Training Academy programme manager, Heidi Volkwijn. She states that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 388 000 South Africans are blind and over a million people have severe low vision. In South Africa, the prevalence of blindness and visual impairment is the highest of all disabilities, ranking at 32%. Approximately 80% of this population live in rural areas where there is limited to no access to essential independence development services. In some cases blind persons may have access to obtaining a white cane but it is powerless if not coupled with professional orientation and mobility training. “For decades the access to orientation and mobility training and services has been constricted and controlled. It was controlled by those who benefited from the unevenness of our country’s historical past. “Today and to our understanding there are just over 50 qualified orientation and mobility instructors nationally. “We are proud to say that the time of restricted services has come to an end,” says Lofob executive director Armand Bam. He adds that Lofob has throughout its existence sought to pioneer new avenues to ensure its clients are able to live improved lives and contribute meaningfully to their communities.“We do not wait for things to change – we make the change,” says Bam.The dire statistics on orientation and mobility training prompted Lofob to launch its Orientation and Mobility Training Academy to address the shortage of trained practitioners in the field. Lofob is accredited with the ETDP Seta to offer a National Diploma in Orientation and Mobility Practice (SAQA NQF level 5) and a range of short courses. Trainees in the programme are trained to teach orientation and mobility, braille, skills of daily living, coping with low vision, and so on, which are essential skills required for independent living. “We are calling on the South African government, corporates and community members to make funding available for indigent blind persons to have access to white canes and for the much-needed orientation and mobility training that is coupled with it,” adds Volkwijn. V For more information on how to sponsor a blind person with a white cane and training or to fund an Orientation and Mobility student through the Lofob Training Academy, contact Lofob on 021 705 3753 or visit the website: ofob.org.za/news/academy.