The Executive Director of the Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB), Dr Donatille Kanimba, said that visually impaired have a big challenge regarding access to information as they do not have what they can read, the problem she hope will be solved by the fact that Rwanda will sign the Marrakesh Treaty.
She made the remarks in a press conference with RUB officials on Friday, November 6, 2020, about the advocacy RUB wants for Rwanda’s signing of the Marrakesh Treaty.
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, provides for the exchange of accessible-format books across international borders by organizations that serve people who are blind, visually impaired, and print disabled.
It was adopted in 2013 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to address the widespread problem known as a “book famine,” the situation where few books are published in formats that are accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired.
So far, people with visual impairments can read Braille or audio materials, but they are few in Rwanda. None of the print or online media can publish stories in Braille or audio form, which Dr Kanimba claims is causing an information gap.
“We suffer from a ‘book famine’; we need to access information like other people without waiting for audio materials which can be downloaded. We want to be able to use even those in the libraries because we are also studying, we are experts, we want to do research and we don’t want to be bothered to go and find someone to read to us”, she highlighted.
“Artists who have books in print or soft form, songs, poems and more have to know that if we sign, these works will reach us without having to pay a second time, without having to ask publishers permission to get them in accessible format,” she added.
What will Rwanda benefit from the signing of the Marrakesh Treaty?
The ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty has many benefits for both the visually impaired and the country as a whole, according to Clemence Mukarugwiza, RUB’s deputy director.
“You know that once an educated person reaches the job market he/she pays taxes, that is the benefit to the country. So once the agreement is ratified, children who are blind will learn to get rid of the barriers, and tomorrow they will go to the job market, and their economy will grow.”
In addition, the role of beneficiaries in socio-economic activities will increase and will increase access to information and thus reduce illiteracy. The ratification will make the country more internationally recognized as a human rights promoter.
Mukarugwiza said due to RUB advocacy, a step had been taken towards the ratification of MT. The intellectual property law complying with MT is under process and the ratification document is currently being drafted at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs level.
About the education of the blind in Rwanda
Currently, there are three primary schools in Rwanda for the blind, which are in Rwamagana, Kibeho and Musanze.
At least 30 blind children start primary school and those in high school are between 5 and 10 today.
Statistics from the National Institute of Statistics, NISR(2018) show that of the more than 2.5 million children in primary schools, 1% were children with disabilities while 5.5% of them were the blind. Of more than 592,000 who were in secondary schools 0.77% had different disabilities, 29% of them were blind.
In Rwanda the first blind student stepped into university in 2008 compared to 1963, the year the first person to enroll in a Rwandan university.
According to RUB, there is not a single school in Rwanda for deafblind people whose communication mode is tactile sign language.
The Marrakesh Treaty is linked to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which ensures the right to inclusive education for children with disabilities in its Article 24. Rwanda has been part of it since 2008.
Although progress on the policy level as well as the practical implementation of these policies has been made in Rwanda, many challenges remain concerning inclusive education for children with disabilities.