If one’s impression of the blind is that they’re only capable of selling tissues, working at blind massage parlours and playing music in the streets, then you’re sadly mistaken.
S.Umashangari, born blind, first learned Braille while she was A standard 1 Student at Sekolah Rendah Pendidikan Khas St. Nicholas, Penang.
However, she had already run out of things to read at the age of eight due to the limited production of books in braille.
“It was disappointing for being unable to experience the variety of fictional stories that my friends did. So, I had pledged to translate books into Braille when I grow up, so that no one would ever have to suffer the same disadvantage as I did,” Umashangari, now 33, told Bernama.
She believed that having better access to books for the blind would be useful to their development and expand their knowledge.
Umashangari, who came from Taiping, Perak, graduated from Universiti Malaya with a degree in Anthropology and Sociology, but never forgot about her wish and desire to empower the blind.
She is a translator and editor of Braille Reading Materials at the Malaysian Blind Association today (MAB). Ever since holding the post in 2018, she has translated more than 10 books for the benefit of the blind community.
Among them are textbooks for use in Malaysian schools, such as Asas Sains Komputer (Form 2); Bahasa Melayu (Form 3); and Sains for Form 5 students.
It is alarming to know, however, that not many blind people in Malaysia are able to read braille.
In Malaysia, only 51,540 of the 780,000 visually impaired are registered with the Welfare Department. Out of thAt, Only 30% of them can read Braille.
The CEO of MAB, George Thomas, said that most of those who struggled or could not read Braille were those who lost their vision at a later part in life, a result of either an illness or accident.
Whereas people who were blind by birth, easily had the grasp of it. And now, as a result of the pandemic, learning braille has become much more difficult due to the limitation of online classes.
The CEO also explained that producing Braille books is a great deal of work. Almost always a number of problems such as securing copyrights for translations and the high cost of development of Braille reading materials remains a huge concern.
Translating a book into Braille can also be very slow and labour-intensive.
In the meantime, the Malaysian Foundation For the Blind CEO Silatul Rahim Dahman states that the relevance of Braille should be acknowledged by all, as an important means of communication for the blind community.
This is because, during the pandemic, the blind community is completely overlooked. Information on the pandemic and SOPs are not made available publicly in Braille, pushing the visually impaired to depend on those around them for information.
Silatul called on the government to revise the Persons With Disabilities Act 2008 to make it mandatory for people with disabilities to be registered, to help enhance the precision of the statistics and to enable the government to channel assistance more efficiently to the community.
Let’s hope that issues are addressed to further develop the blind community’s wellbeing. I truly think that they are capable of many things only if they are provided with the necessary aid.