S Umashangari was born blind, but she is not letting her condition get in the way of gaining knowledge via reading.

The 34-year-old has thus far translated more than 10 books, such as the Basics of Computer Science, Visual Arts, Bahasa Melayu, Moral and Science, among others, in Braille, for the benefit of the visually impaired community.

Umashangari told Bernama in an interview that she started reading when she was seven, and by the time she was eight, she had run out of reading material, due to the limited publications in Braille.

"When I was in Standard 2, I had already mastered Braille but I did not have much to read. It was extremely disappointing as I could not enjoy works of fiction as my friends were then.

"That's when I told myself that I would devote myself to translating books to Braille when I grew up, so that others would not be disappointed like me," she told the national news agency.

Umashangari, who holds a Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology and Sociology from Universiti Malaya, believes that providing ample reading material to the visually impaired is a crucial element in empowering the community.

"I believe that by mastering Braille, members of the (visually impaired) community can escape the clutches of misperception that they are only good for selling tissue on the streets, and cannot read, let alone succeed," she said.

However, Umashangari's vision may be far from being realised, as statistics show that only about 30 percent of the 51,540 visually impaired people registered with the Welfare Department are Braille-literate.

Speaking at the same interview, George Thomas, the chief executive of the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) said the majority of those who could not read Braille were those who lost their vision when they were adults, either due to sickness, or accidents.

"This group are totally reliant on technology and applications, unlike their counterparts who were born blind, who learned how to read Braille in special schools when they were younger."

According to him, the COVID-19 pandemic has also poured cold water on educating the visually impaired youth, as schooling can no longer be held face-to-face.

Translating normal text into Braille can also be very time and cost consuming, and involves bureaucracy and copyright issues, Thomas added.

Silatul Rahim Dahman, the chief executive of the Malaysian Foundation for the Blind, echoed Thomas' remarks on the challenges faced by the visually impaired.

For instance, there are no reading materials in Braille in matters concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, he lamented.

"It is as if we are immune from the pandemic. To date, there are no standard operating procedures set for the blind, eventhough we stand a higher risk of catching the virus as we rely on the sense of smell and touch to move around."


Source: Bernama
Photo source: Bernama