Axel Davila is a voluntary correspondent for Sandy’s View, and this week he discusses the current situation of people who are blind or visually impaired living in Argentina.
According to Fernando Galarraga, vice-president of the Argentina Federation of the Blind, the living situation of Argentinians who are blind or visually impaired has a major underlying problem. Legislation guaranteeing equal access exists and new construction is designed with this population in mind, however compliance of social norms and laws is scarce.
The country is divided in 23 provinces and the federal capital, Buenos Aires. This means that each region has different norms. For example, the educational system is decentralized and differs from province to province. This means that education is not consistent throughout the country. In some provinces, people with vision loss attend a special school, while in others they go to a school for people with all types of disabilities. Teachers of children who are blind often lack the necessary training to teach things like Braille and orientation and mobility.
According to Galarraga, although Argentina has made some progress in the education system, it has also regressed in certain aspects. Previously, people with disabilities had to go to large cities to receive an education. While they can now go to school in their local province, quality of the education is considerably worse. On another hand, production of textbooks and other materials in Braille and alternative formats has increased, and schools are provided with assistive technology and other equipment that can help students who are blind or visually impaired. Nevertheless, staff has not been given the necessary training on how to operate the various tools, making the equipment useless in the end.
Galarraga says that a continuous complaint of the visually impaired community is the lack of rehabilitation centers to assist those who are newly blind or visually impaired. “People do not receive even basic instruction to reintegrate themselves into society,” expresses Galarraga. On another hand, Galarraga says that on recent years, legislative measures, such as passing a law requiring restaurants to have menus in Braille, have been made. However, Galarraga states that while this is a good measure, there are more important problems that still need to be addressed. As one of his colleagues once said, “nowadays there is copious braille that can be seen but not felt.”
Regarding discrimination, Galarraga confidently expresses that the current situation is similar to that of other countries. However, he presents a new perspective, and points out that nowadays it is more complicated for others to see and acknowledge discrimination. “Sometimes when I am waiting for the bus, people ask me for directions, and I give them the information. However, when they realize that I am blind, they tell me ‘Oh sorry’ and maybe even ask another person instead,” Galarraga recalls. Another misconception according to Galarraga is that people tend to believe that an improvement for a specific disability helps people with all types of disabilities, but this is far from true.
For Galarraga, the challenges for people with vision loss in Argentina stem more from attitudes, rather than lack of legislation or access. Laws forbidding discrimination, and various services and types of equipment are available for those with vision loss. However, if cultural stereotypes do not disappear and adequate training is not given to this population, inclusion will be nonexistent, and Argentina will continue to have improvements that can be seen but not felt.