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Opinions of Thursday, 24 February 2022

Columnist: MOV Music

Darkness before the whites

Blind people can live a normal life Blind people can live a normal life

It’s the year 2022 in Accra, Ghana. My name is Joseph Seyena-Susu, a visually impaired young man and I am just thinking aloud.

We all know the story about how the Europeans first visited Africa and what happened after that. We know of the ships, the so-called trade, the slave trade, the missionaries and the colonialists.

My mind however skips all these and goes to before all of these. I imagine that in those days, my ancestors lived in clay huts or caves and what little clothing they had on would have been of animal skin and plants. I imagine that in those days my people hunted, farmed and fished the clear waters of the rivers and streams.

I imagine that in that distant time, in that small village, was a chief, a chief priest, a queen mother and warriors of the tribe.

“It is a typical day in the village of my ancestors and in the broom swept compounds of the families, women are cooking delicious maize meals in blackened clay pots over the burning firewood. It is sunset now and the farmer walks into the village square from the farm, followed soon by the hunter with a dead deer, the fisherman with a basket full of fish and soon after the palm wine tapper, with a pot full of fresh wine. The men gather under a huge tree to exchange greetings and tales of the day while they sip on their palm wine from their calabashes. All the men have some form of work that gives them relevance and importance. Not too far from the happy gathering, a blind man sits. He sits where he has sat all day and listens to the other men tell their stories. Finally, he asks himself, “When and how can I also become relevant in this community, when can I work like a man, when?”

I do indeed agree with my sighted Africans when they talk about the injustice that came with the arrival of the white man but you see, had he not arrived, my sighted Africans, still in their primitive ways would be as happy now and as relevant now as they were then and I, the visually impaired man would still be as miserable as the blind man who sat alone under the big tree centuries ago.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not happy with how the white man introduced himself to the African but today, in the 21st century, I can live with the current state of affairs. I am happy, for three white men, Louis Braille, Charles Barbier and Francesco Lana de Terz invented Braille, a universally accepted system of writing used by and for blind people in 1824.

With braille, the blind African could now read, write and communicate easily with another blind person and with sighted people through a translator. Blind people could now work as teachers, lawyers etc. but the best was yet to come.

The 21st century saw technology as a whole grow wings and simply take off. Technology for the blind and visually impaired took off too so that today a blind person can use a computer with soft wears like JAWS and NVDA and smartphones with software like Talkback and Voice over, depending on whether you use an IOS or Android phone.

There now exist different applications that help the blind person do so much. With apps like uber and bolt, which are ride-hailing services, blind people can now move from one point to the other with no assistance. Apps like Kebo and Seeing AI also help the blind extract information instantly from hard copy books and documents and can do a host of other things just to mention a few.

I became visually impaired in the year 2017 and thought for a moment that my life had come to a halt but I was wrong. After visiting the Ghana Blind Union and equipping myself with the technological skills required, my life is back on the road. I am employed and play a meaningful role at work, at home and in society. For the blind man, the white man brought to light and took him out of the darkness. We may have started on the wrong foot but now I say I am glad we met.