Education

Atuegwu: Enabling blind children through Braille and audio books

 

Adaeze Atuegwu, known as Nigeria’s youngest most prolific writer after writing and publishing 17 children’s and young adult books at seventeen years old in 1994, continues to make her books available in Braille and audio formats for blind and visually impaired children, decades after the initial publication of her history-making books.

The availability of these Braille books is especially significant as Nigeria does not have sufficient learning resources to support the educational needs of blind and visually impaired children. Atuegwu’s books are one of the long-lasting collections of work still available in audio and Braille for the population that need it the most.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 2.2 billion people in the world have some sort of visual impairment. About 1 billion people are blind. Over 80% of visually impaired persons in the world live in Nigeria as well as other low- and middle-income countries. In Nigeria, an estimated 50 million people have some sort of visual impairment and about 7 million people, including a great percentage of children, are blind.

Young children with vision impairment often experience lower academic and learning achievements. They also often find it more difficult to communicate, play, socialize, move, read, and write. Medical experts show that early intervention with therapies and educational materials like Braille and audio books, can help a blind or visually impaired child maximize their full potential.

Unfortunately, the lingering challenge is lack of adequate resources for learning and educating the blind population especially children. Enough resources are not dedicated to Braille books in Nigeria due to low demand, high cost, and low profit margins. Many publishers do not favour investing in Braille books for financial reasons as well as for copyright concerns and laws.

And when some Braille books exist, the selection of children’s books like creative fiction that could be read for the pleasure and love of reading independently, is limited. The availability of Atuegwu’s fiction books in Braille allows children and young adults readers to foster and nurture their creative and curious minds.

Atuegwu who was born on June 5, 1977, in Enugu, Enugu State to Prince Chris Atuegwu of Nnofo royal lineage of Nnewi, and Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu, also from Nnewi, attended University Primary and Secondary Schools in Enugu where she won multiple writing and academic awards and was the school editor of her secondary school magazine, Honour.

Atuegwu went on to win the Rotary International Club Award for Creativity (1994), Award for Fostering Child Development (1995), and Award for Excellence in Writing (1996). She was also a winner of a 1993 World Health Day essay contest and won the Award for Creativity from Rotaract International in 1996.

Atuegwu attended University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) for one semester prior to relocating to the USA in 1996 to continue her education. Atuegwu, who lives in Washington D.C. with her family, obtained a bachelor’s as well as a doctorate degree from Rutgers University; a Master of Science degree from University of Florida, and a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University, all in the USA.

While in Rutgers University, Atuegwu was a contributing writer and copy editor of Pharmascript, her pharmacy yearbook. Atuegwu who also writes medical non-fiction, holds a certification from the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).

Atuegwu wrote her first book, Fate, at seventeen years old (1994) while awaiting the results of her senior West African Examinations Council (WAEC) exams. After a mega 17-book launch in 1996 that was well-attended by top government and private personalities, Atuegwu’s books which were already being used by some schools, became recommended reading and teaching materials across many primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions in the nation for decades. Her books were also used for common entrance, junior WAEC and senior WAEC exams.

Atuegwu’s seventeen published books are all fiction books for ages ranging from young children to young adults. Her books include Fate, Tears, Chalet 9, My Husband’s Mistress, The Magic Leaf, The Adventures of Nnanna, Bina Series (5 books) and the Lizzy Series (5 books). All her books were published by 1996, making her one of the early forerunners of third generation of Nigerian Writers.

Adaeze Atuegwu, who is also a Nigerian American, is a big advocate for disability inclusion. One of her most popular series, The Bina Series, inspired a popular haircut, ‘Bina haircut’, named after the main character in the series, Bina, a naughty six-year-old boy. Without the gift of sight, children who are blind are often excluded from simple joys like being part of a new haircut trend, or reading popular enjoyable books, something that should not be happening with advances in modern technology and the endless possibilities that Braille books present.

Through Bina Foundation for People with Special Needs, a non-profit Nigerian organization founded by Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu to promote personal development, economic empowerment, social inclusion, and human rights of people with special needs, Adaeze Atuegwu’s books has been transcribed to Braille and audio and donated to blind and visually impaired children and blind centres around the country, making Atuegwu one of the most inclusive Nigerian authors.

According to the “Resource and Recreational Centre for the Blind” at Bina Foundation, there is limited access to Braille and audio books. And even when books are in audio and available through phones and computers, these electronic devices are often too expensive for most families.

Braille is a writing system which allows books to be read on raised paper or when advanced, displayed on computers. Braille gives blind and partially sighted individuals the ability to learn how to read, spell, and understand how text shows on a page.

Braille also teaches grammar, paragraphing, punctuation, and other literacy skills that blind students might not have otherwise learned without Braille technology. Braille allows young ones to develop their writing skills, a necessary skill for the 21st century.

Since reading and writing is the basis for literacy, availability of Braille books such as Adaeze Atuegwu’s books, allow blind and visually impaired children the ability to use their sense of touch and feel (when they read Braille) to improve their literacy.

Nigeria has about a 62 percent literacy, a significant drop over years, compared to other African countries like South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, and Seychelles with nearly 95% literacy. Educating our blind and visually impaired through Braille books and other resources, will not only improve our country’s literacy, but it will also touch and improve the lives of the millions of Nigerian children who are blind or visually impaired.

 

 

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