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Blind SA leads march to end ‘book famine’

1 Feb 2021

Blind SA members during the march

By Mokgadi Maponya

Blind SA has participated in a march to the Union Buildings, Pretoria to demand, among other things, the right for blind persons’ organisations to translate material into braille and other accessible formats and to import braille books into the country.

The march, which took place on December 10, from the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), was part of efforts by the organisation to exert pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa to sign the Copyright Amendment Bill (CAB), which seeks to empower blind people to access copyrighted works in accessible formats, into law without further delay.

They were also demanding that the government put the necessary legal mechanisms in place for the government to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty of 2013 which facilitates access to published works for persons who are blind or visually impaired through exceptions to traditional copyright law.

The DTIC took the better part of a decade to draft the CAB, which was passed by Parliament, and sent to President Ramaphosa for his signature in March 2019.

More than a year later, in May 2020, Blind SA instituted legal proceedings in the Constitutional Court against Ramaphosa “to compel him to perform his duties in terms of Section 79 of the Constitution of South Africa vis-à-vis the Copyright Amendment Bill (CAB)”.

In response, the president referred the CAB back to Parliament on the grounds of certain specific constitutional reasons, but this did not include the section that deals with copyright exceptions and limitations for blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled persons.

According to Blind SA CEO Jace Nair, this issue has affected the blind community in the sense that it is perpetuating their book famine, restricts their reading choices and limits their access to less than 0.5% of published works.

“We strive to empower and improve the lives of blind citizens. Our braille services division is the largest braille production house in South Africa and the only one to produce material in braille in all 11 official languages,” Nair said.

Ntshavheni Netshituni, SA representative to the International Council on English Braille, says President Ramaphosa confirmed at last year’s State of the Nation Address and at the International Day for Persons with Disabilities that the mainstreaming of persons with disabilities, inclusion, social cohesion and nation building is the priority of government. The empowerment and services for persons with disabilities was highlighted.

“We have excellent legislation and policies, however, the implementation and practice is unsatisfactory. Blind and partially sighted people’s basic rights are violated,” Netshituni told ThisAbility.

He added that learners do not have access to accessible learner, teacher support materials and assistive devices such as braille writing machines and low vision aids.

“Only 3% of blind and partially sighted people are employed. Government departments at all three spheres are not achieving the old targets of 2% employment and 4% learnerships/internships, let alone the revised targets of 7%,” Netshituni said.

In its memorandum to the DTIC and the Speaker of Parliament shared during the march, Blind SA requested a response by Parliament by the end of January, indicating a proposed way forward to achieve a resolution of these issues.

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