Blind people need equipment and technology that will help them receive access to justice

September 12th, 2022

The University of South Africa’s College of Law, Transformation Office in collaboration with the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB) held a webinar on ‘Access to Justice for Blind People’ on 4 August 2022 in Pretoria. The webinar featured a variety of speakers, who engaged and made presentations to attendees on the challenges that blind people face in the legal profession, as well as issues surrounding the accessing of justice in South Africa (SA).

SANCB: Chairperson of the Consumer Committee, Selaelo Makgato, spoke about the challenges that blind people face in their everyday lives, such as not having adequate resources that can be used by blind people, the crime that blind people experience, such as robbery, and having to navigate their way through harmful spaces, such as areas where manholes, or drainage systems are left open in the streets. He also touched on the issue of gender-based violence, affecting blind people. He pointed out that SANCB has a hotline to give support to blind victims of such crimes.

Mr Makgato said that the right to access to justice is seen as a right of paramount importance by the SANCB. He added that the achievement of all other rights, depends on the right of access to justice. He pointed out that when a child is refused entry into a school, which is an educational right, access to justice has to be put in place. He further added that access to justice should set in when a blind person is refused entry to rehabilitation due to a health issue. He said that the SANCB continuously advocates through the law and other means for education for blind people.

Mr Makgato pointed out that the SANCB is organising blind legal practitioners to participate in the transformation of the legal profession. He added that the SANCB is also training administrators of justice in understanding what blindness is and how to work with blind and partially blind people. He pointed out that the lack of understanding for blind people is the biggest barrier for blind people to access justice.

Director of Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Benny Palime, delivered the keynote address. In his address, Mr Palime said that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) recognises the huge gap in terms of the law published in respect of the issue of power of attorney in regard to blind people, because the person who has the power of attorney can sign contracts that may affect the person who is blind. He added that another issue of concern is the signing of contracts by persons who are partially blind.

Mr Palime spoke about access to justice as administered by the courts. He pointed out that it is important that when a person who is partially blind presents their case, they should be given fair attention and proper exposure to any other evidence that might require substantial analysis. He spoke about the difficulties of identity parades for blind people who are victims of crime. He added that with cases such as rape cases, it is difficult for a blind woman or any other blind person to identify the perpetrator. He said as a result this might compromise the evidence. Mr Palime pointed out that if a blind person cannot access their material in braille, they might be prejudiced with regard to their contracts, and this might place them either in contravention of the law or at a disadvantage.

Mr Palime said people should act in good faith when dealing with blind persons. Among other things he made presentation on case law, he said that in principle the judgment in Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v Grootboom and Others 2000 (11) BCLR 1169 (CC) states that the state must take reasonable and necessary measures, within its available resources to ensure that vulnerable groups can access services on an equal basis with others. He pointed out that s 9 of the Constitution provides for special means, which must be put in place to ensure equality. He added that in his work he comes across departments which still use Latin law to prevent the implementation of policies. He added that in promoting access to justice, it must be ensured that proportionate value is not placed on the person with disability. He said that sometimes a blind person must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that their lives were violated in person. He pointed out that this requirement must be balanced.

Mr Palime touched on transformation, saying the jurisprudence of the country must make sure that transformation takes place in all aspect. He said that blind people need equipment and technology that can assist them in getting access to justice.

University of Pretoria (UP), Professor Ilze Grobbelaar-du Plessis, spoke about the transformation of law faculties to include disability studies. Ms Grobbelaar-du Plessis said that the need for disability studies to be included in faculties came from society. She shared how UP has, over the past years, included disability studies at the institution. She said that the university has recognised that persons with disability face frustrations regarding participation in society, through environment, the negative attitude of society, misunderstanding and lack of awareness. She pointed out that these were some of the reasons why disability studies were not implemented as a field of study at a law faculty level.

Ms Grobbelaar-du Plessis said there are additional barriers that blind people face, which often leads to discrimination. She added that the perception of people with disability are reflected in the language used, she pointed out that is something that people should lookout for, because the language used is also linked to discrimination. She added that international governments have worked together to try and address this situation, which resulted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

She said with the adoption of this Convention in 2006, SA then ratified the Convention in 2007. She added that SA saw a legally binding international interest, which is now called ‘interest law research’. She pointed out that what is different from this legally binding interest, and what was interesting was the different approach where persons with disabilities participated. She added that the binding interest had a different approach to human rights, where civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights where all part of one legally binding international human rights instrument. She said this is what filled an interest in the interest of disability rights.

Ms Grobbelaar-du Plessis, furthermore, added that when one goes through the Convention it signals to the international community to commit to disability as a human issue. She said that UP decided to hold a conference with legal practitioners on disability rights. She noted that there was a lot of interest. She pointed out after a successful conference, UP started a short course as a part of the human rights programme and disability rights, where it was finally admitted that disability is a human rights issue.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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