Visually impaired call for more reading materials

A young boy with visual impairment reading the map of Rwanda during the reading campaign in Kicukiro. Courtesy.

Persons with visual impairment have decried the lack of reading materials in public libraries and academic institutions which hinders the promotion of reading culture among them, and their education in general.

Visually impaired people use the Braille to read but reading materials are not available in public spaces, while those who go to school struggle in vain to get reading materials.

Braille is a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired. It is traditionally written with embossed paper using a Perkins Braille machine with a key corresponding to each of the six dots of the braille code, a space key, a backspace key, and a line space key.

Besides, visually impaired students say they are obliged to look for colleagues who have to dictate to them after the teacher had delivered the course or, sometimes write from the teacher’s explanations during class.

According to Donatille Kanimba, the Executive Director of the Rwanda Union for the Blind (RUB), there is a serious problem faced by persons with visual impairment in terms of accessibility to reading material.

“There is the problem of availability of reading materials, there is no where you can say that you will be able to access reading materials for persons with visual impairment,” she told The New Times.

She said that the visually impaired who go to school struggle to get reading materials as they mainly depend on teachers notes which are not enough compared to what is needed to learn.

The problem affects all visually impaired persons in all learning categories and according to Kanimba, there is need for government to intervene.

She said that they are aware this requires investment but it would not be that difficult for the government as long as they plan for it.

“My impression is that the government is doing nothing towards teaching children with visual impairment to read and write, whatever we have is from goodwill of some well-wishers,” Kanimba said.

She said that it is even hard for schools to transcribe some books in full or in part to facilitate the visually impaired students, because those books are copyrighted.

“That is why we call upon our government to sign the Marrakesh Treaty so that we are exempted from applicability of the copyright law,” she noted

The treaty was signed in 2013 to allow for copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works for visually impaired persons.

“Government should provide means for transcription of books and make sure we have books in public spaces like the national library,” she said.

There are currently three schools where people with visual impairment can go for up to secondary level and get the minimum needed materials for study.

These are; Kibeho School for the Blind in Southern Province, HVP Gatagara Rwanda and Groupe Scolaire Gahini, both in Eastern Province.

Persons with visual impairment also have chance to join the University of Rwanda to further their studies.

There is will to support

According to Mary Kobusingye, the in charge of Special Education Needs at the Ministry of Education, the issue of shortage of reading materials for persons with disabilities is known and efforts are being put in to get a solution to it.

She said that the ministry has helped some schools to get basic materials such as printing machines but it is expensive to start printing reading materials massively.

“We are well aware of the problem but the nature of their reading materials are not easy to find, we are yet to be able to transcribe those books with our current capacity, we have however provided some machines to schools which can help them transcribe some relevant books,” she said.

She added that there are ongoing negotiations to engage publishers to grant copyrights to transcribe some books so that they can benefit the blind.

“Finding books for each academic level is not easy, there are ongoing negotiations with publishers to see if they can give us copy right to transcribe the books internally or provide some copies of Braille along with ordinary ones but this is not something that can be done overnight,” she said.