By Godfrey Olukya
KAMPALA, Uganda - Fifteen-year-old Brenda Nekesa sits in front of her grandparent’s house while other children her age run around the compound.
“She is blind. That’s the reason she is sitting alone as other children play,” said her grandmother, Silvia Auma.
She said Brenda had stopped studying since primary five because the nearest school to their home had no teachers for blind students. They also had no money to buy a Braille machine so she could enroll in a boarding school for the blind about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.
“I stopped going to school because there were no teachers for blind students there. My parents were told to buy a Braille machine for me before I could be admitted to a school for the blind, but they couldn’t raise the money to buy it,” Brenda told Anadolu Agency.
She is among the hundreds of blind children in Uganda who are not attending the limited number of schools in the country for the blind because their parents are poor and cannot afford to buy Braille machines.
Asked if blind people in Uganda should celebrate World Braille Day, which falls on Jan. 4, Francis Kinubi, the chairman of the Uganda National Association of the Blind (UNAB), told Anadolu Agency they should, but they face a lot of challenges.
“It falls during the Christmas holidays when most offices are still closed. We cannot celebrate to mark the day. We usually get another day to do so,” he said.
Kinubi said the Ministry of Education has not established a national Braille day so far as they need funding to popularize it and make people aware of how important Braille is to the blind.
He decried the high cost of Braille machines and the paper they use.
“The machine costs 3.5 million (Ugandan) shillings (around US$988) and a pack of the paper used costs 300,000 shillings (US$85), which is too expensive for local people in a country where the per capita income is projected to be US$910 in 2022.”
- What is Braille?
Kinubi said Braille is a system of raised dots enabling blind people to read and write.
“It is the alphabet of blind people. To use it, blind people use their fingers. They have dots like those on jackfruits. They are made into an alphabet from A to Z,” he told Anadolu Agency.
He said a Braille machine is used to write the dots, but it is very expensive.
But how can blind people study without Braille?
Kinubi said that due to the scarcity of Braille materials in the country, they recently came up with a new method of teaching blind children using audio materials and computers and are trying to popularize this method.
“It is unfortunate that only around 10% of blind school children in Uganda have access to Braille. This has prompted us to also use audio and computers while teaching blind children whose parents can’t afford to purchase Braille machines. We are going digital, and we have discovered that it is affordable to most of the parents of blind children.”
He said that unlike Braille machines that are made in the US and are very expensive, audio materials and computers can be obtained from anywhere in the country.
According to 2014 data from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, Uganda has 6 million visually impaired people, of which 2 million are totally blind.
Kinubi said that currently, there are around 1,000 blind children enrolled in the country’s primary schools.
Bumali Mpindi, the chairman of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU), blamed the government for not providing inclusive education whereby even blind children are facilitated so they can study comfortably.
“With inclusive education, schools should be provided with enough Braille machines. The schools should also be provided with special needs teachers who can teach blind children how to use Braille,” he said.