Being-blind-in-the-world: a phenomenological analysis of blindness and a formulation of new objectives in rehabilitation

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This work contains a phenomenological analysis of blindness, providing a basis for the evaluation of rehabilitation practice in South Africa and the formulation of future objectives in the field. Stereotypes of blindness associated with the perspectives of consumerism, scientific research, and social casework are analysed. Theories of blindness proposed by Braverman, Carroll, Monbeck, Foulke, Jernigan, and Scott are critically examined. The findings give substance to the claim that professional workers with the blind are guided in their attitudes and actions by images and meanings originating from these sources. All such preconceptions are rejected in favour of a description of blindness in terms of actual experience. An in-depth study of experience reveals how the nature of perception determines the blind person's relationship with the physical environment, with other people, and with the welfare system. In each sphere limitations arise which are overcome by specific responses and appropriate techniques. These observations lead to the formulation of a set of basic principles of rehabilitation, stressing the importance of individualization, self-reliance, assertiveness, versatility, and a personal interpretation of blindness. The relevance of traditional modalities is explained, while the need to expand rehabilitation teaching to include assertive skills training and various types of vocational instruction is emphasized. Current rehabilitation practice in South Africa is evaluated, comparisons being drawn with programmes offered by Beit Halochem in Tel Aviv, Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind, and the Center for Independent Living of the New York Infirmary. South African training is characterized as fostering the independence of the individual. Negative features are the lack of an effective delivery system and failure to meet the priority needs of certain groups. This prepares the way for a case study in which the redevelopment of rehabilitation services for the blind in South Africa .is discussed, beginning with the establishment of a new national rehabilitation centre. Amongst other matters, the study deals with negotiations to circumvent restrictive legislation, funding through a system of corporate sponsorship, and purposeful architectural design. The rehabilitation centre is viewed as the first component of a broader strategy to provide rehabilitation training to all blind people in South Africa, incorporating national, urban, rural, and specialized services. The successful implementation of any action plan will require the participation of blind people themselves by way of a disability rights movement. Finally, attention is focused on the effect of South African racial policies on welfare work. The principle of equal opportunity cannot be practised under present legislation.