Rwanda: The Bible Society and Union of the Blind started a campaign to enhance accessibility for the visually impaired

The Bible Society of Rwanda (BSR), a Christian NGO, in partnership with Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) marked a major achievement on September 11 as they displayed 27 newly published “Braille Bibles”, enhancing their current range of audio Bible options.

For a long time, people with visual impairments have experienced discrimination, even within religious communities.

They have faced difficulties in accessing the sacred texts that hold great importance to them.

However, BSR’s committed efforts to alter this situation will enhance accessibility and inclusivity in matters of faith.

Viateur Ruzibiza, the Secretary General of BSR, said the organisation is launching a campaign to increase awareness among all Rwandans.

The goal is to ensure that visually impaired individuals are not excluded and that their difficulties are understood.

He added: “The move seeks to shed light on the difficulties they encounter daily, and aims to prevent their continued exclusion, especially in religious communities.”

Ruzibiza also pointed out that visually impaired people encounter difficulties in religious institutions and churches.

Frequently, they are not acknowledged as valuable participants and are excluded from church events and family involvements. This exclusion can lead to isolation and depression.

Rev Elisee Musemakweri, a former pastor now university lecturer, cited a passage from the Holy Bible [Mark 10: 46-52] which recounts the story of a blind man named Bartimaeus who encountered Jesus and his disciples as they were leaving the city of Jericho, accompanied by a large crowd.

Musemakweri said, “This scripture and some other lines were written way back and have not been changed to date. But pastors need to be careful when reading it so they do not offend anyone. We cannot change the Bible but preachers should know how to speak about it respectfully.”

He also acknowledged that there are very few visually impaired individuals participating in church activities. He suggested that fellow clerics should make efforts to include them in the daily life of the church.

Emmanuel Ntakirutimana, the external relations officer for the Association of Pentecostal Churches of Rwanda (ADEPR), acknowledged that they are indeed implementing changes, particularly in their buildings and structures to enable them to accommodate visually impaired persons.

“We have been noticing unfairness and the need for changes. Although we have not yet done much, there is progress so far, and the association is actively renovating existing structures and constructing new ones to better serve their needs.”

Sheikh Saleh Nshimiyimana, the Deputy Mufti, said they are currently developing a similar concept to introduce a “Braille Quran”, but it is still in the developmental stages.

“One of the challenges we faced was to determine the exact number of visually impaired persons in the Muslim community. Our partners needed the exact number, so we are actively pursuing the initiative,” he said.

According to a 2022 report by the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda (NISR), there are 391,775 individuals with disabilities, accounting for 3.4% of the total population of over 13 million. Among them, 216,826 are females and 174,949 are males.

The move seeks to shed light on the difficulties they encounter daily, and aims to prevent their continued exclusion, especially in religious communities.

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