Women’s Month:  The South African Library For The Blind empowers visually challenged women

AUGUST 30, 2016

“Reading is dreaming with one’s eyes open”

The value of reading in the lives of women cannot be underestimated.  Indeed, books create and shape our view – especially when we have none. This Women’s Month the SALB have celebrated past and present women who have worked tirelessly towards the advancement of Braille literacy.

Thanks to the nationwide free services offered by the South African Library for the Blind (SALB), women with visual disabilities can continue enjoying all the delights of reading no matter their age or sight ability and can delve into a thought-provoking collection of international female literature’s best this women’s month.

The Library loans out reading materials from their main library service and a national network of public libraries in formats accessible to the blind and visually impaired such as recorded audio and Braille books and magazines for free.

The convenient home delivery service is circulated through the South African Postal Facility at no cost to registered members and can be booked for up to eight weeks.

These Audio and Visual reading materials are available to all residents of South Africa who are unable to read or use standard print materials because of visual or physical impairment through the SALB Mini-Libraries. With 133 Mini-Libraries all over South Africa (and 35 in the Eastern Cape alone), the SALB ensures that the gift of a book can be opened and enjoyed again and again. These Mini-Libraries are facilitated from within many Public Libraries nationwide with trained library staff to assist members to use the latest digital technology and reading materials.

The library has completely transformed the way those with visual impairment experience reading.  With increased interaction amongst members, book clubs and access to technology, a women’s reading experience could not be more convenient this women’s month!

Members can learn from and enjoy an extensive range of books celebrating the strengths of women. Sindiwe Magona’s “Mother to Mother,” tells the tragic story of both Amy Biehl and her murderer’s mother and emphasises women’s unwavering compassion and ability to reach out to others even during the most personally traumatic experiences, while Chris van wyk’s tribute to Albertina Sisulu in his “Freedom fighters Series” explores the plurality of roles women are able to thrive in and not just survive in. Boitumelo Sebopela’s “When the Sun Rises” is a source of motivation providing hope anew each morning as the sun rises.

Other works include “How to be a Woman”, by Caitlin Moran or a biographical read such as “A woman of independence: a story of love and the birth of a new nation” by Kirsty Sword Gusmao or for those mom’s wanting to teach new recipes to their children, "My first cook book” by Angela Wilkes introduces the tools, recipes and techniques necessary for dishes such as pizzas and bread bears to little ones.

Pasha Alden, SALB employee who is completely blind is incredibly grateful to have a workplace where she has accessibility to Braille devices, computers and other assistance when needed.  “It makes life a great deal easier in terms of adjustment”.  Said Pasha.

There is no one more equipped to share the reasons a membership with the SALB is so empowering…  “Libraries are a treasure trove of information; we all know knowledge is power and readers are leaders to through access to information women may be empowered”, she added excitedly.   

In terms of services offered by SALB, Pasha highlights that being a Braille consultant, often charged with the responsibility of Braille standards she likes reading shorter documents in Braille such as magazines and DAISY books in her leisure time.  Especially psychological thrillers or autobiographies.  (all available via the SALB).

For mothers with blind children she has a very special recommendation “Have your children join as young members and make use of the pre-school tactile books. These are cuddly books containing Braille large print and tactile pictures. So a seeing mother can read to her blind child, the mother who is blind can read to her blind and seeing children. These books also expose children to Braille and tactile pictures, all important when they attend school,” said Pasha. 

And on reflection of women’s month, Pasha read Sindiwe Magona’s “Mother to Mother,” and was literally ‘moved to tears whilst being inspired by the unique strength that women have to overcome the unimaginable”.

The SALB is proud to support all its members and especially women who are often at the centre of the family support structure.  Reading helps these visually impaired women learn new skills, maintain maximum independence and dignity into old age and assists in reducing health inequalities, particularly addressing social isolation and improved confidence, mental health and wellbeing.

There have been some wonderful inspiring women who have helped shape the SALB to what it has become today.  One of these was Josie Wood, first honorary life president of the South African National Council for the Blind, who started with her work among the blind in 1919 where she stored 100 Braille volumes in her own home and created a transcription service to make Braille more accessible.

Years of service to the blind earned her the R.W. Bowen Medal in 1963 making her the first ever recipient.


Josie Wood and the first ever collection of Braille volumes in South Africa

Wood’s work has been continued by Pasha Alden, who advocates for Braille good practices and facilitates the delivery of services to Braille readers through presenting papers at International Braille conventions.

Braille activist Pasha Alden and her guide dog.

Pasha Alden is living proof of how access to Braille and visually impaired reading materials can empower women. She is also a violinist and blind photographer.  Alden is a passionate and inspiring Braille ambassador who now travels the globe, taking part in International Braille conventions advocating for Braille good practices and facilitating the delivery of services to Braille readers.

For more information on the SALB please visit their website www.salb.org.za where you can find a list of mini libraries nationwide as well as a list of recommended books.