National library to cater for people with disabilities

The Nelson Memorial Public Library is looking to develop a new collection for people with disabilities, a challenge the Head Librarian, Alakalaine Kirisome, says is a top priority.

The national library in Apia is managed by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) and currently it has no resources for people with disabilities. 

“[We are] sorry to say we do not have any books written in braille,” Ms. Kirisome told the Samoa Observer via e-mail.

“However, given that the Ministry covers education for all we are looking at developing a collection particularly for people with special needs.”

Students and adults with disabilities rarely visit the library in search of materials, Ms. Kirisome said but the library is open to the idea of adding a collection that to cater to people with disabilities.

“We hardly have students or people with disabilities coming to the library or looking for materials,” she said.

“But we can add such a collection if we are able to find and secure books and materials that caters to people with disabilities."

The Samoa Observer contacted the Samoa Public Library to ask if there are any resources in braille for members of the Samoa Blind Persons Association (S.B.P.A.).

Ms. Kirisome said developing such a collection was “the first challenge for library services this year."

The S.B.P.A. says it is suffering from a lack of reading material for children who are blind.

An advocate for Samoa’s blind community and people with disabilites, Mata’afa Faatino Utumapu, said the S.B.P.A. had a limited collection of resources and just one braille reading book for children.

This week the very first braille book for children– the English version of 'Seu and the Ruffled Bird Catcher', written by Galumalemana Steven Percival and illustrated by Kate Delaney – was launched on World Braille Day.

“In terms of children’s reading books in Samoa this one we just launched is the first one,” said Mataa’afa.

“We used to have other things available, in Samoan, but due to office restructure we keep on losing books.”

Resources to create reading materials in braille -the reading system for visually impaired people - are also scarce, the S.B.P.A. said. 

“The only resource available is […] the slate and the stylus,” Mata’afa said which is a time-consuming task.

They also have heavy metal typewriter-like machines for producing braille material but they are broken.

“That one is really heavy to take along with you but those are the only two things that are available, the stylus and slate [but] both of our braillers are not working… this equipment is not available here. You have to wait to go to places like New Zealand and Australia,” said Mata’afa.

The most convenient tools available for learning are audio software and screen reading software which allows people who are blind to read, Mata’afa said. But the software is costly and requires training. 

“It’s not anything below $500 so while that is becoming available, the needs remain because the tools are expensive and the training that comes with it is another conversation of its own,” she added.

“[H]aving the braillers, slates and stylus available to help the young ones before they actually get to a stage where you can use a computer it is critical," Mata’afa said. 

"At this stage, the only thing is that now that people want to do things easier way I am sure I am one of those people. I went from braille to audio because it’s an easier way to engage with the world.”

Even with advanced technology, it's imperative for young people to learn how to read and write.

“If we want better braille readers they have to learn how to read and write using braille so that they are able to not only listen to the words. They also have to be able to spell the words and write the words so they are equal to the other children,” Mata’afa said.

Ari Hazelman, former President of S.B.P.A. said the association began producing braille documents in 2018.

The S.B.P.A. produces braille materials for students who are blind in schools on Upolu and Savai’i, he said.

Mata’afa notes that they also have a young adult fiction book in their collection from Lani Wendt Young’s Telesa trilogy.

The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind translated the Telesa novel into braille.

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