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Cameroon Blind Ask for More Braille Awareness

Cameroon, Nigeria, Central African Republic

Scores of blind people protested Monday in the West African nation of Cameroon to mark World Braille Day and call for more books and teachers who can use the system of touch reading and writing for the blind. Blind and visually impaired people blame the lack of braille books and teachers for their lower levels of education and struggles to be independent.

Forty-one-year old Jean Pascal Somb Lingom lost his sight to a measles attack when he was eight years old. Lingom says since he became blind in 1998, nothing much is changing and little attention is paid by the government to visually impaired persons in Cameroon.

"There are about 600,000 people in Cameroon who have visual impairment and about 150,000 who cannot read with their eyes. I do not think that we have up to 2,000{blind} that are able to read the braille," said Lingom. "We need to make this writing and reading method more popular. One of the ways is teaching braille in teacher training institutions because they{teachers} are the channels through which knowledge is conveyed to a people."

Braille is a code that uses bumps and indentation on a surface to represent letters, which can be recognized by touch. The system was invented by Louis Braille, a French man who was blinded in an accident at a very young age.

Somb is president of the Association for the Promotion of Assistive Technologies and the Education of the Blind, the organizer of World Braille Day activities in Cameroon.

He says his family helped him learn braille and continue his education. He is now advocating for more assistance to blind persons.

During their protest meetings in the capital, Yaounde, and the economic hub, Douala, blind demonstrators said the braille system helps them further their education, establish their independence and reduce the need for support.

They said their lack of education keeps them poor and dependent on their communities, NGOs and well-wishers. They said they believe some misconceptions about the blind, such as the belief that their handicap is divine punishment for some wrongdoing, will cease if they have access to braille for education.

Eveline Angonwi is vice president of the African Union for the Blind. She says Africa has more than six-and-a-half million blind people and more than 20 million visually impaired persons. She says 90 percent of the blind and visually impaired are illiterate because they either lack braille or teachers who can read or write braille.

"The African Union of the Blind is encouraging member countries to promote this system of writing among the visually impaired," said Angonwi. "This special system of writing has come a long way to remove visually impaired people from illiteracy and of course reading and writing is the only way to gain education."

The World Blind Union estimates that there are 180 million blind and partially sighted persons in 158 countries.

Celestin Kombo is the official of Cameroon’s ministry of social affairs in the coastal city of Douala. He says the state will not abandon blind people even though the government has limited financial and human resources.

He says during official examinations, the government invites teachers who have a knowledge in braille writing to translate questions for blind learners. He says when blind learners write using the braille, the government still invites examiners who master the system of touch reading and writing to correct scripts written in braille. He says Cameroon has no government institute that trains people in braille writing. He says the state created 68 schools where both visually impaired and children who see study with emphasis on braille reading and writing.

World Braille Day is annually celebrated on January 4, the birthday of Braille founder Louis Braille.