Malawi Union of the Blind pleads  for duty exemption on Braille, their needy equipment 

  • Malawi commemorates ‘World Braille Day’
  • Bill submitted to Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare in 2019
  • MUB got a confirmation that Bill was submitted to the Ministry of Justice on January 31, 2020
  • Also pleads with Government for duty exemption on their needy equipment
  • ‘Braille is a key to economic empowerment of the blind’

The Malawi Union of the Blind (MUB), while congratulating the government of Malawi for signing and ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty — which enables distribution of braille and other accessible reading materials — without the threat of copyright infringements — is pleading for the speedy amendment of the Malawi Copyright Law (2016) to incorporate provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty.

MUB Executive Director Ezekiel Kumwenda
The Braille

In the same vein, MUB is pleading with the Government, through Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, to consider giving duty exemption to all the imported equipment for the blind which are not locally manufactured.

MUB executive director Ezekiel Kumwenda made the remarks on Monday (January 4) during commemoration of the World Braille Day under the theme; ‘Braille is a key to economic empowerment of the blind’.

Kumwenda disclosed that MUB submitted the Bill to the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare on December 19, 2019 and they got a confirmation note that the Bill had been submitted to the Ministry of Justice on January 31, 2020.

He said the amendment to the Malawi Copyright Law (2016) to incorporate provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty is a great way of ensuring that braille remains relevant alongside new technology.

“This is critical given that in less developed countries, braille production is costly, hence limiting the availability of reading materials for the blind,” he said.

“However, this good gesture is in vain if the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs continues to sit on the amendment of the Bill.

“The Government should bring the Bill for the amendment of the Copyright Law before Parliament for Malawians with visual impairment to start benefiting from the fruits of the Marrakesh Treaty.”

Kumwenda further said they are requesting the government to make sure that equipment for the blind, which are not locally manufactured and are imported, should be given duty exemption.

The equipment which needs duty exemption include Perkins braille machine; embossing machine; Orbit Reader 20; slates and styluses; braille papers; braille wrist watches and white canes.

“We always need to import these materials from abroad, which is costly to a less developed country like Malawi since we don’t have braille production hence limiting the availability of reading materials for the blind.

“As such we are pleading with the Government to make sure that equipment for the Blind should at least be given duty exemption when imported,” stressed Kumwenda.

MUB is a national registered advocate organization for the rights and needs of the blind and partially sighted people.

January 4 was declared as World Braille Day by the UN General Assembly in 2018 to raise awareness of the importance of braille as a means of communication in the full realization of the human rights for persons who are blind or partially sighted.

World Braille Day commemorates the birthday of Louis Braille, born at Coupvray, France in 1809, who has been credited for inventing the braille — a widely used touch system of reading and writing for persons who are blind.

This is a special code made from 6 raised dots on a grid. There are 63 combinations of these dots that translates into many subjects, languages, including music.

Kumwenda said MUB regards the Braille as essential tool for literacy and lifelong learning of the blind, their freedom of expression and opinion, as well as social inclusion as enshrined in Articles 21 and 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

It is also enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which focuses on inclusive and equitable quality of education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all.

“Furthermore, as Malawi strives to cope with COVID-19 pandemic, access to information and reading material in accessible formats is essential for persons who are blind or partially sighted.

“Therefore, we would like to take this opportunity to call on government, policy makers and all other stakeholders to ensure that reading materials are available in accessible formats, including braille, jaws (speech software) and large-print just to mention a few so that no one is left behind,” Kumwenda said.

He added that they are very excited with how the country is improving in making sure that rights of the blind and partially sighted people are not violated and that there are able to access their needs.

According to the United Nations (UN) News, UN Development Programme (UNDP) produced 4,050 braille products for Malawi used to spread awareness and prevention of COVID-19.

In Ethiopia, the UN human rights office published audio information, education and communication materials, to media professionals, and developed them in Braille formats.

“Similarly, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) produced guidelines in multiple languages and accessible formats, including Braille, on considerations for children and adults with disabilities in the response to COVID-19,” says UN News.

UN News further says people with vision impairment are more likely to experience higher rates of poverty, neglect and violence and that COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent impact, such as lockdowns, has worsened their challenges, isolating them further.

It quotes World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 2.2 billion people globally have a vision impairment, of whom at least 1 billion have a vision impairment that could have been prevented, or is yet to be addressed.

“The pandemic has also underscored the importance of making information available in more accessible formats — including in Braille and on audio platforms — to that everyone can access vital information to protect themselves and help reduce the spread of COVID-19.” says UN News.

“The UN, for its part, has implemented several good practices to promote an inclusive response to the pandemic.”

Louis Braille invented the Braille at the age of 15, which is read by passing one’s fingertips over an arrangement of between one to six embossed dots, which represent letters, numbers as well as musical and mathematical symbols.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) cites the universal system as a means of communication; and regards it as essential in education, freedom of expression and opinion, access to information and social inclusion for those who use it.

It has been tweaked over the years and as early as 1949, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) took the initiative to promote a survey of problems aimed at establishing Braille uniformity.

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1 year ago

Honestly how do you feel charging duty on something as Braille? Then abuse the money you are making the blind pay? Nzimu ukutsutseni ndithu. Never get tax from things blind people need to survive. Also look at what other disabled people need. This is a matter of priority, athandizeni anthu akhungu please.

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