“It might sound strange, but in my heart I always knew I was going to be someone special one day,” says Joseph Matheatau, the first trained blind barista in South Africa. Joseph has overcome endless challenges in the process of achieving this goal and despite losing his vision, he now makes the best cappuccinos in Worcester in the Western Cape.
A project was launched in collaboration with Truth Coffee Roasters and Joseph was identified to be trained as a barista. After many challenges, burnt fingers and blisters, Joseph became a master of the craft and today makes all the drinks on the menu: espressos, cappuccinos, lattes and many others. He currently works at Blindiana Barista Coffee Shop, one of the iniitiatives of Innovation for the Blind.
The mission of Innovation for the Blind is to empower persons who are blind, partially sighted or deafblind, including persons with visual impairments with additional disabilities, by means of education, training, development, employment and care towards a fulfilled life and complete citizenship.
Joseph’s humility and positive outlook on life is inspiring, and he dreams of helping other persons with visual impairments to persist with courage.
The management team from Innovation for the Blind tells more about the unique initiative and Joseph Matheatau.
Tell us more about Innovation for the Blind. Who are you guys and what does the organisation do?
Innovation for the Blind (formerly Institute for the Blind) is a non-profit organisation (NPO 011-891) that has been catering to the needs of persons with visual and other impairments since 1881. Our main aim is to empower them towards improved quality of life and reaching maximal levels of independence.
Innovation for the Blind’s comprehensive and unique services include residential care, supported living services, and therapeutic and rehabilitation services on a 24/7 basis to adults and elderly persons with visual and other impairments. We are privileged to be the only organisation in South Africa that offers this vulnerable group of citizens the full spectrum of care and skills development they require to lead a fulfilling life.
What projects or initiatives does Innovation for the Blind have to assist blind people?
With unemployment among the visually impaired as high as 97%, Innovation for the Blind is proud to state that 53% of our blind, partially sighted, multi-disabled and deafblind residents are accommodated in our supported therapeutic and rehabilitation environment.
We are extremely proud to have recently launched several new projects that offer vocational skills training, therapy and sheltered employment opportunities to 53 persons who are visually and additionally impaired and cannot be accommodated in the open labour market. These projects empower them to become independent, economically viable citizens who participate in activities that contribute towards the sustainability of our organisation. The projects include a maintenance and gardening team, wellness centre, coffee packaging department and metal workshop, to name a few.
One of the initiatives of Innovation for the Blind is Blindiana Barista Coffee Shop where Joseph Matheautau, a visually impaired man, is a barista. Please tell us more about the coffee shop. When was it opened and why was it opened? What is the goal of the coffee shop?
The first coffee shop was opened in 2013 as an extension of the already existing Information Centre at the facility. The shop was revamped in 2016 to accommodate more customers. Innovation for the Blind receives a lot of visitors throughout the year, and the need arose to have a facility where visitors can relax and enjoy a cup of coffee. This also enabled us to share the history of Institute for the Blind and introduce the world of the visually impaired to a wider public and raise awareness for the cause and what we are doing.
The coffee shop also enabled us to create work for the visually impaired in a whole new field that had never been explored before: training people with visual impairments as baristas, and Joseph’s is a huge success story born out of the coffee shop. The Information Centre consists of the coffee shop, a museum and tactile fossil trail.
The coffee shop also has its own coffee brand?
Beans for Africa Coffee Roasters’s entire existence is for one thing: striving for coffee perfection, and Innovation for the Blind is privileged to have had the opportunity to partner with Beans for Africa to establish our very own coffee brand – packed, labelled and distributed as a wonderful and much needed source of job creation.
Please tell us more about Joseph. Was he born blind? How did he get involved with Innovation for the Blind?
Joseph was not born blind, but lost his sight in his left eye at the age of three. Through the years, the sight in his right eye deteriorated to such an extent that he was unable to attend school. Joseph finally lost his vision in his late twenties and was then faced with a long period of suffering and enormous challenges.
He joined Innovation for the Blind’s training facility in Worcester in January 2014 to study marketing and entrepreneurship. During his time at the facility a barista training opportunity crossed Joseph’s path.
He is the first blind man to be a trained barista. Where did he receive training? Has he always been interested in becoming a barista?
A project was launched in collaboration with Truth Coffee Roasters and Joseph was identified to be trained as a barista. After many challenges, burnt fingers and blisters, Joseph became a master of the craft and today makes all the drinks on the menu: espressos, cappuccinos, lattes … you name it!
From a young age Joseph watched his grandfather’s careful ritual of brewing coffee and tea on the fire, as there was no electricity. That’s where his love for coffee started. Joseph says he could never understand why his mom always asked him, as a blind person, to make tea for her when he visited. Till one day when she said to him: “You might not be able to see, but you can still make it in life and making the best cup of tea is a good start!” He says that when he made her tea, she was happy – and that made him happy.
What are some of the challenges that blind people like Joseph face in society and their everyday life?
Blind people face various obstacles and challenges – some of them include:
- Ignorance on the part of the public – the broader public do not always know how to treat a visually impaired person.
- Work opportunities
- The safety of people with visual impairments is worrying – blind people are often seen as “soft targets”.
What does the future hold for Joseph? What are his future plans?
Joseph’s dream is to open his own coffee shop. “I cannot wait to make that first cup of coffee for my mother and sister,” he adds.
“It might sound strange, but in my heart I always knew I was going to be someone special one day,” he says.
“When I used to tell my friends I was going to have my own shop and write out cheques someday, they laughed at me.”
Innovation for the Blind is based in Worcester in the Western Cape. For more information about the work of Innovation for the Blind, visit their website.
- Photos: provided