How Ornette Became Blind and Broke Down Barriers

At the age of 10, Ornette Danse lost his eyesight. He had come to believe that his options were limited and had planned on working within those limitations. However, at the age of 30, he decided that he was no longer interested in those limitations. He registered for a diploma in public management, graduated, and got 10 distinctions in the process.

Born and raised in Boshof in the Freestate, Ornette lost his eyesight after an operation to repair his retina went wrong. To have the world suddenly become dark made him feel lonely and scared, and it took him a year to get use to the darkness. The great thing about Ornette is that he is a focused person, and when he wants to achieve a particular goal, he does not let anybody or anything stop him. His first goal was to master reading braille and use a walking stick. His second goal was to make sure that he would get a job so that he can help his mother pay the bills. Ornette began to plan how he would become employable by the time he left school.

He says that he knew that being blind would make getting a job straight out of school basically impossible. “I had limited options so to ensure I was employable, I wanted to make sure I had work experience,” says Ornette.  During his matric year, he underwent switchboard training and volunteered during the holidays at his local police station. After matriculating, he worked at the police station for another year until he landed the switchboard operator job.

Ornette had achieved everything he had set out to do in order to make sure that being blind would not hold him back. He got married, had 3 children, and had everything he needed to survive. As a blind person coming from a poor background, he had broken through all barriers that was set up for him to fail. However, becoming a father brought  a whole new set of challenges, and he knew that he wanted more for his kids. The only way to achieve that was to get an education, so he did.

At the age of 30, Ornette applied for an SAPS bursary, got it, and registered part-time for a diploma, but his new struggles were only beginning. It is one thing being a student, but quite another being a blind student with a fulltime job. He had to overcome all of these hurdles so he improved his time management and trained himself to listen attentively to every word the lecturer said. He also got himself a screen reader programme which read the electronic versions of the notes back to him. Perhaps his greatest challenge was getting back home after class, a problem faced by many part-time students. His classes were in the evening and he did not have any transport, but luckily for him, there were plenty of students and lecturers willing to give him a lift. He says that if you need help, just ask. There are always people willing to help.

Ornette eventually graduated with 10 distinctions, becoming the first graduate in his family. He says that his family was always 100% behind him and it makes him happy to know that he could make them proud. On too many occasions, he had thought of giving up, but his wife always encouraged him and kept everything together when he couldn’t. He also makes a point of noting with pride that he was raised by a single mother who raised two kids on her own. His mother did all of this on a meagre income, cleaning houses.

Of his accomplishments, he says that he feels like he made it, but he is not ready to stop now. Being a focused person, he wants to be in a strong position to be promoted within the police service, so he is busy completing his B-Tech degree.

When Ornette Danse stood up at his graduation to receive his diploma, the auditorium erupted into wild applause. They did not applaud because he was a graduate with 10 distinctions. They did not even applaud him because he was a blind man that completed his diploma with 10 distinctions. They applauded because he made everyone realise that with a little bit of focus, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.


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