Liberia’s blind have called on government to produce the Liberian Constitution in Braille so that they will have the opportunity to read it.
Braille is a series of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or whose eyesight is not sufficient for reading printed material.
In their frank exchange with the CRC last week, representatives of the blind and visually impaired lamented, "Considering the way we are treated, we don't feel as though we are part of this country."
We consider this a serious indictment of the way we do things in Liberia. The CRC's mandate is to include ALL citizens of Liberia.
The representatives told the CRC, "Now is the time to reflect on treatment of the blind and visually impaired by providing them with copies of the nation's most important document in Braille. It is just as important for us to read as it is for those with sight."
We pray that the CRC will pay keen and active attention to this community, which in Liberia number at least 35,000, or one percent of the population. According to recent statistics, three percent of our people are visually impaired.
These are significant numbers of people that must be included not only in the constitutional review process, but in the broader spectrum of national affairs. Their exclusion is unconstitutional, since the Constitution, the basic law of the land and the nation's most important document, is what guides citizens as they participate in the process of governance. A citizen's knowledge of the Constitution empowers him or her to play a more effective and more meaningful role in national affairs and hopefully makes a better citizen.
The CRC is, therefore, called to recommend immediately to government the production of the Constitution in Braille, even as the Committee continues its work. This will enable the blind and visually impaired to participate NOW, while the Review process is ongoing. GOL could contact the Braille Institute of America, based in Los Angeles, California, or other Braille institutions in neighboring countries or in Europe, for advice and assistance. Perhaps one of development partners interested in the constitutional review process could be approached to assist in this endeavor.
But the CRC should not wait, as time is of the essence. The year 2015, when the CRC should be completing its work, is now only months away. If the CRC is proactive and swift, treating this matter with urgency, the Constitution in Braille should be ready within the next three months and placed in the hands of these citizens.
Another matter of urgency which, not just the CRC but more so the national government should immediately address is the matter of access to buildings for our physically challenged people.
For too long, these unfortunate brothers and sisters of ours have complained about access, especially to public buildings and educational institutions. The time is long past when we as a nation should DO something about this problem, by reaching out to these people and giving them access to places they need to go.
The government will, hopefully soon, begin renovating the E.J. Roye and completing other unfinished buildings. In this process, the physically challenged should be remembered. Architects and engineers involved in the renovation and construction need to visit the Japanese Friendship Hospital at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center and see what has been done there giving complete access to pregnant mothers and other people in peculiar circumstances. The government also needs to put in place mandatory measures to ensure the efficient maintenance of elevators in buildings that have them. For example, when last did anyone–even the Ministers whose office was on the sixth floor–use the elevators in the old Ministry of Education on Broad Street?
That building was totally off limits to our physically challenged, many of whom are teachers.
We hope government will act NOW to protect access of ALL the people to buildings in Liberia, most especially government ones. GOL should make it mandatory that BEFORE a construction permit is given for ANY building now or in the future, access by the physically challenged should be assured.