Christine Fischer holds an M.A. & a M.Ed. in multicultural counseling psychology from TC, Columbia U...
Social issues: Blind & visually impaired community17 October 2013, by Christine Fischer
Those in the sighted world do not often consider how the world is experienced by those without vision.
Think about all the work being done on the roads or at train stations lately. Do the construction site managers or the town officials who draw up the plans consider the impact that the daily changing of the physical world has on those who are visually impaired?
Will the architect firm involved in all this wonderful modernisation consider hiring a "blind" consultant or will they just follow "regulations"? The common routine is to build and then test accessibility, instead of planning accessibility into the design.
Number of blind and visually impaired people in the Netherlands
Referring to the report VISION 2020 Netherlands:
› an estimated 220.000 to 320.000 people in the Netherlands have a visual reduction in both eyes (visual acuity less than 0,3 with available correction).
› between 33.000 and 45.000 are blind (visual acuity less than 0,05) and 115.000 to 175.000 have low vision (visual acuity between 0,3 and 0,05).
› approximately 62.000 to 110.000 people are blind or visually impaired due to refractive deviations without proper correction.
Dutch institutions and organisations for the blind and visually impaired
In order to consider the needs of these populations, organisations have been formed to help, support and promote awareness about the experiences of those in the blind and visually impaired community.
Jellie Tiemersma, adminstrator of Aangepast Lezen and board member of Bartiméus, is very active in pointing out the importance of raising awareness.
For instance, she will be the first to bring attention to the fact that audio and braille books provide so much more than information or entertainment. These resources broaden a client’s world way beyond their house, village or city.
In a community where the possibility of dropping out of society is real for so many people, these sort of resources can bring them back in touch with the world locally and globally.
The organisation Aangepast Lezen (Adapted Reading) was created with this philosophy in mind. Their website is in Dutch, but they are trying to broaden their international resources.
Their site contains a collection of over 66.000 spoken books and 10.000 braille titles. Each year they increase their collection with approximately 2.000 new books.
The collection is broad and includes modern and classical literature, novels, detective stories, children's books, science fiction, informative titles and philosophical books, as well as novels in foreign languages.
Most books are in Dutch, but they do have a growing catalogue of resources in French, English and German. They hope to expand this area extensively.
In fact, Jellie Tiemersma wants people to know that advocacy by these sort of organisations has an impact. For instance, just this June in Marrakesh, Morocco, there was a diplomatic conference to conclude a treaty to facilitate access to published works for visually impaired people and those with print disabilities.
Thus, countries are setting policy and law based on the great value such resources have to blind and visually impaired communities.
The treaty was put together by WIPO (The World Intellectual Property Organisation), a United Nations agency dedicated to the use of intellectual property (patents, copyright, trademarks, designs etc.). On June 27, this historic treaty was adopted and will boost access to books for visually impaired persons worldwide.
Once all the countries covered by the treaty ratify it, the Netherlands will have much greater access to audio and braille books in different languages from around the world. If you are a new immigrant or an international in the Netherlands, having resources in your own language can make the adjustment to living in the lowlands that much easier.
According to the World Blind Union: "of the million or so books published each year in the world, less than 5 per cent are made available in formats accessible to visually impaired persons." This treaty will hopefully change such percentages.
Creating policies like the treaty above literally open new worlds. It is also why advocates such as Jellie Tiemersma stress the importance in showing solidarity with and within the blind and visually impaired communities to make sure such important changes occur.
Beyond books, Aangepast Lezen also has services that allow for formal papers to be translated into Braille as well as into audio / spoken media. Thus, leaflets, contracts, instructions, letters, meeting documents and newspaper and magazine articles can also be made accessible.
There is also the Daisylezer app, which is currently suitable for an iPad and iPhone from Apple. Such apps make more media accessible via this equipment. There is also an Android version in the works. Lastly, Aangepast Lezen is also on Facebook.
Photo by Flickr user Victor Phùng
Support comes in many forms and beyond the scope of books. Organisations not only hope to broaden their client's inner world but also allow them better access to the world at large.
Another resource for the visually impaired community is Bartiméus. This Dutch organisation provides care, support, education and training for partially sighted or blind people.
The organisation aims to improve quality-of-life by providing personal advice, guidance and knowledge. Its website is extensive and is available in both Dutch and English. Resources regarding schooling and assisted living are broadly detailed on their pages.
Bartiméus continually develops new services for people of all ages in the field of education, living accommodation, work and leisure. Their services have also been adapted for those in the visually impaired community who additionally must manage intellectual, physical or sensory disabilities.
They have 17 offices that offer tailor-made support for clients in his or her own environment. People can:
› Call Bartiméus: +31 (0) 30 698 22 11
› Send an them e-mail: info[at]bartimeus[dot]nl
› Join their Facebook page
Another well known organisation is Visio, the Royal Dutch Visio Centre of Expertise for blind and partially sighted people.
Visio welcomes anyone with questions about being partially sighted or blind. People who are personally or professionally involved with partially sighted or blind people can also turn to Visio for information and professional development.
According to the site, the organisation works on continuously developing knowledge, innovative care, rehabilitation and education in which cooperation with other partners, both nationally and internationally, is part of their ethos. Their website is in Dutch and English.
They provide information and advice as well as different services related to research, counselling, rehabilitation, education and living. These services have also been adapted for partially sighted or blind people who additionally must manage intellectual, physical or sensory disabilities.
Rotterdam Oog Ziekenhuis
Often people will be directed to their regional medical facilities, but one of the most prominent eye facilities in the Netherlands is the Rotterdam Oog Ziekenhuis (Rotterdam Eye Hospital). It is known as a centre of excellence.
In this organisation, much attention is given to the transfer of knowledge, particularly through publications, symposia, education and training. It is a great resource, but bear in mind that the website is in Dutch.
Not unlike other areas of medical need, waiting lists are the longest at the most prominent medical facilities. Thus such institutions will often deal with complex problems first.
The Rotterdam Eye Hospital also has a Facebook page.
Other organisations for the blind and visually impaired include, but are not limited to, the following:
› NVBS - de Nederlandse Vereniging van Blinden en Slechtzienden (Dutch Association of Blind and Visually Impaired)
› OOG in OOG (Face to Face)
› Oogvereniging (Eye Association)
Educating communities about the resources available is effective in helping people explore both inward and outward journeys.
Imagine when businesses, designers and towns utilise such organisations: accessibility could literally be built into the fabric of society!
Please feel free to add relevant links to the comments section of the article that may help readers. Sharing resources is the best way that internationals can help support each other.
Many thanks to Jellie Tiemersma for providing her time and expertise to help with this article.