A Shuttle In The Blind’s Alley
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• How The Visually Impaired Conserves Forests With Braille
Mrs. Megan Olusanya, administrator of Nigerwives Braille Book Production Centre, Lagos, was seated in her office alongside Mr. Tunde Mohammed, head of the computer centre. Before the arrival of The Guardian, Mohammed had been working on his specially built computer for the visually impaired. He was browsing on the internet.
“The blind man’s computer does not use a mouse,” he volunteered. There is a special software known as JOS, which enables the blind to have access to speech on the computer. With the use of the computer that has speech software, the computer talks to the user, who uses his keyboard to respond, without a mouse.
“You are on Microsoft 2007,” the computer voice told Mohammed and he worked on. He had attended a special school for the blind, where from primary three, they were taught how to type on the typewriter. “When I was in the university, I depended on friends and lecturers to read my scripts,” Mohammed said.
Within a few seconds, he had typed on his computer and when the computer’s speech software was used to read what he had typed, it was: “Hello Tunde, nice having you here.” Mohammed chatted on Facebook, Yahoo and Google Talk. “This helps us to live a normal life,” he said.
Adjacent to Mohammed’s department is where books are turned into Braille. Also seated were four men in their mid-20. They handle the Braille’s press, where old papers are printed on in Braille for the use of the visually impaired.
In a section of the office, Mrs. Mercy Williams, a poet and mother of two, was busy proofreading a textbook titled, The Precious Child. She read out Act 4 Scene 1 of the play with her fingers.
Before The Guardian left the Nigerwives Braille Book Production Centre, a plea was made, requesting the need for more used papers to enable the centre meet the demands of the blind, who are trained on computer skills.
Blind men and women are helping in the conservation of the forests, investigations have revealed. Through the educational and instructional materials they use, the visually impaired have been able to conserve forests much more than those who can see, through the recycling of papers made from trees.
This, however, was not the original intention of Louis Braille, when he designed this method of writing for the blind in France over 100 years ago.
Investigations showed that the blind in Nigeria and other West African countries, through their own specially made textbooks and mode of education, can save 40 pieces of a paper from one tree, which could produce textbooks for people with impaired eyesight. By conserving the forests, the blind, experts say, have also assisted the world in the release of oxygen, which human beings and other living things need from trees.
Experts say if more papers used by the sighted are reused by the blind, it would, in the long run, help in tackling the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
Nigerwives, the brain behind the centre, is an association of European and Latin American women married to Nigerians. These women have lived in Nigeria for over 50 years and have decided to give back to their adopted country by providing educational materials and textbooks to the blind.
Mrs. Jean E. Obi, coordinator of Nigerwives Braille Book Production Centre and a former Mathematics teacher, said the centre has been able to assist the blind through the production of primary, secondary and tertiary school textbooks.
“Before now, learning Mathematics used to be difficult for the blind because of the diagrams, calculations and how the blind can do rough work before calculation; but this has been simplified with the Braille texts,” she said.
For her efforts, Queen Elizabeth of England conferred on Mrs. Obi an MBE award, while she was also bestowed with a national honour, Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) by the Nigerian government.
Olusanya, administrator of the centre, who originally hails from Jamaica, said Nigerwives is committed to reducing the pain of learning, which the blind goes through.
TO publish the Braille, the centre usually solicits and comb several places for used calendars and papers, which are later converted into readable textbooks for the blind. The conversion process is carried out by a workforce of 10 people at the centre.
Five of the workers are blind and they live at Ikorodu town, which is 25km away from the centre in Victoria Island, were they have turned books like J.K Rowling’s Harry Porter and numerous textbooks in English, Mathematics, Geography, and History into readable Braille texts.
The books are distributed to the various blind schools in the country with the collaboration of Nigerwives branches in the states. Over 300 textbooks have been made to Braille at the centre.
According to Obi, the association of Nigerwives started in 1979 when foreign women married to Nigerians were treated as aliens and birds of passage. The women felt unhappy that though their husbands were Nigerians, their wives were treated as expatriates, who were retired from the civil service without benefits.
“Many of the women were teachers at Kings College, St. Gregory’s, Queens’ College, and Lagos Boys’ High School, where the government created equal opportunity for students with special needs like the blind. That was where we saw firsthand how the blind went through hard times to learn.”