New Internationalist

Braille newspaper makes history


More than 110,000 people in Guatemala suffer from a visual disability, a problem that is magnified in rural parts of the country where medical care is limited.

Few blind people have access to a radio or television and as a consequence are largely alienated from national and international news. Guatemala’s literacy level stands at 74 per cent but is significantly reduced among blind people.

When Publinews Guatemala – a version of the Metro newspaper – launched Central America’s first ever Braille newspaper in July, the visually impaired community was overjoyed.

‘Having a visual impairment in Guatemala, like any other kind of impairment, is very difficult,’ says Jorge Mario Cifuentes, who lost his sight 20 years ago after he was diagnosed with pigmented retinopathy, a degenerative condition of the retina.

‘Most institutions that deal with this issue are private and the state’s reaction to this subject is very limited – especially on the theme of education. For me to be able to hold a newspaper in Braille is a reflection that society is gaining an awareness of the needs of blind people,’ explains Cifuentes.

Together with the Committee for Blind and Deaf People in Guatemala (Prociegos), Publinews has started producing 2,500 copies of the free newspaper, which are distributed monthly to visually impaired people throughout the country. It is sponsored by four companies: Walmart, Telefonica, Cardioaspirina and Cerveceria Centro Americana S.A.

‘It’s important for visually impaired people to have access to different forms of communication and to feel a part of society. They have the same human rights as everyone else and should be granted them by the state,’ says Edilzar Castro Quiroz, Director of Education at Prociegos.

Publinews launched Latin America’s first ever Braille newspaper in Chile two years ago and have been building upon the experience in Guatemala. Last year, it started working with focus groups to find out what specific articles and sections would be of most interest to visually impaired people in the country, and tailored the newspaper’s content accordingly. The Guatemalan version has been so popular that there is even talk of replicating it in El Salvador.

‘We detected that the visually impaired community had been a little forgotten about and we wanted to support them and prioritize their rights,’ says Hugo Perez, Director of Marketing at Publinews. ‘It’s a little drop of water, but it’s making a lot of waves.’

Sonia Hernandez, who is blind, works as a telephone operator at Prociegos: ‘I’ve always been a fan of the news and enjoy reading more than listening. I used to listen to the radio at work, but it was difficult as the phone would ring and I’d lose the thread of the story. I’m really happy with it. It’s a normal newspaper that speaks about national and international issues – the only difference is that it’s in Braille,’ says Hernandez.

The newspaper has the same 16-page format as Publinews’ flagship version and covers the latest international, national, technology and sports news. It also features an ‘Inspirational Person of the Month’, which aims to motivate other blind people to achieve their potential.

Prociegos says the newspaper opens up journalism  to blind people who are more than qualified to writing articles and helping with the production process.

Both Prociegos and Publinews agree that the most important step will be to increase the newspaper’s circulation and frequency, but say that in the short term it will continue as a monthly newspaper.

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