Blind World Magazine

Group gives the blind eyes.

January 18, 2006.
Daily Sun - Apapa,Lagos, Nigeria.

Majority of visually impaired children in Nigeria’s special schools, have little or no opportunity to develop braille reading skills, which are keys to accessing information for their educational advancement. Most of them, in primary and secondary schools, do not have textbooks in braille.

They do not have access to general reading books like their well-sighted counterparts either. Apart from these, those that manage to go through the rigours of tertiary institutions are denied the privilege and joy of working in the same environment with well-sighted individuals.

This, to a great extent, is based on employer’s doubt of their productivity, and the liability they might pose to such an organization.

This too, has hampered to an extent what they can contribute not only to themselves, but to the nation as a whole.

Based on the challenges and stigmatization encountered by these disadvantaged individuals in the society, a group of foreign women, known as Nigerwives Association of Nigeria, (Nigerwives), a non-government Association for women of different nationalities, married to Nigerians and resident in Nigeria, have taken the bull by the horns, by confronting ‘ begging and dependency’ among the visually impaired in the society.

The group, which is involved in a number of humanitarian projects, that contribute, not only to the development of communities in which they reside, but to the country generally, has special interest and love in developing the visually impaired to become useful to themselves and contribute meaningfully to the society. These they have been able to achieve by promoting braille literacy among primary and secondary schools across the country, through various programmes, and by providing computer training to prepare visually impaired applicants for job opportunities.

Daily Sun visited the centre set up in 1995 at Kings College Annex, Victoria Island, Lagos and was conducted round the centre, whose services cuts across the geo-political zones of the country. There was also opportunity to speak with some graduates and students who have benefited from the centre’s benevolence.

The coordinator of the centre, Mrs. Obi, told Daily Sun that the centre was set up to give tremendous boost to braille literacy among the visually impaired, and which would greatly, in turn, enhance their educational potential and independence in the society. According to her, the centre produces braille books for 13 states and sells them at the same price even though the cost is higher. This, she says, is achieved through books supplied to the centre from the Braille Institute Press in California, which is later distributed to the Nigerwives branches and contacts in various states.

“ Apart from that, we also undertake the compilation of statistics of the blind to help better provision for their educational needs”, she added.

Mrs. Obi noted that the pioneers of the centre can look back and be proud to see the dimensions that has been added to the activities embarked on by the association. These, she says, includes: Production of brailled textbooks for the primary level, Braille literacy programme for children in state primary and secondary schools, Braille reading competitions; Math’s workshops for visually impaired students with regular maths teachers; Computer training programme aimed particularly at visually impaired graduates and exploring the challenges of providing employment for the visually impaired.

Mrs. Megan Olusanya, the administrator of the centre, spoke extensively on major challenges facing the centre. According to her, financing the salaries of the staffers has not being easy, as the centre has nine workers currently in their employ, out of which four are visually impaired graduates.

“ It is pertinent to note that no matter the equipment in the centre, it is useless without staff to operate it, and the employment is basically to give the visually impaired staff a reason to live and hope”.

She also noted other challenges facing the association, the most disturbing being the inability of visually impaired graduates to get equal opportunity with their sighted peers when it comes to securing jobs to commensurate with their qualification.

“ It is disheartening to these disadvantaged individuals to have their hopes of better life dashed, after training to achieve their optimum potential educationally.”

To fight this trend, Mrs. Olusanya, said that the centre has set up computer training programme to better equip them. According to her, the training involves the use of a scanner, regular computer system, and a screen reading software that enables them to access printed documents and respond to them accordingly.

“ Right now, we have Mr. Ope Akinola, a visually impaired graduate, as the head of the computer training programme, he was trained by the centre”

Another challenge that comes up, even after acquiring a computer education, she noted, is the ability to convince potential employers that the graduates can operate effectively in sighted work environment alongside sighted colleagues.

“To pursue this issue further, we recently held a forum for human resources personnel from some companies, tagged: “Employing the visually impaired- Challenges to employers and employees”.

Mrs. Olusanya, however, made special appeal to corporate bodies and organizations that recruit graduates into their workforce, to consider the visually impaired applicants as they can equally fit in, if given the chance. She also enjoined the public, to come to the aid of the centre by financing some of the projects and donating old calendars for production of braille books for the visually impaired in the country.

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