65th IFLA Council and General
Bangkok, Thailand, August 20 - August 28, 1999
A Status Report on the Library for the Blind in the Philippines
Resources for the Blind
Box 1831, Manila, Philippines
The Philippines is well known for the beauty and the bounty of its seven thousand islands and for the warm hospitality the Filipino people. Few of the many visitors that come every year would ever imagine though, that scattered throughout these islands are almost half a million people who are blind. It is in the hopes of better serving this hidden population of blind people that we are participating in this conference today. We hope to gain new ideas and make new contacts that will benefit all those who are blind in the Philippines.
Statistics on Blindness and Literacy
Most of the half a million people who are blind in the Philippines, about 80%, are blind because of age-related cataract. We realize that for these people, the most pressing need is that of a simple out-patient cataract surgery to restore sight. Because of that need, we have added cataract surgery as one of our major services for those who are blind and we now average about one hundred surgeries per month. As it turns out, the cost to us for one cataract surgery is far less than the cost of one average length braille book.
Out of the remaining number of persons with non-cataract blindness, we estimate that about 40,000 are of school age. Although the Philippines has a very well established school system with a high percentage of children enrolled in school, historically, only a very small percentage of those who are blind have been able to enroll. In 1990, only 300 blind students nationwide were enrolled in school, primarily in three urban residential schools for the blind.
This is beginning to change though. In 1992, a teacher- training program funded by Christoffel-Blindenmission of Germany began preparing public school teachers to mainstream blind children into regular classrooms. These teachers are now enrolling blind students in nearly all of the 76 provinces of the Philippines, with an enrollment this year of about 1200 students. We expect this number to continue increasing by about 100 students per year as long as the teacher-training program is continued.
All blind school students are taught both Tagalog braille, which is the national language, and English braille, which has long been used as a medium of instruction in schools. We believe that the increasing number of blind persons enrolled in and completing school will begin building a demand for reading materials in braille or other suitable formats. The three residential schools for the blind have small libraries for their students but the majority of new students are now found in mainstreamed classes scattered in all parts of the country. For these more isolated students, the only reading materials available are their school textbooks, a braille Bible, and a bi-weekly braille magazine for children, which we produce at Resources for the Blind. It seems that the time is right to begin developing library services to meet the needs of this growing population of literate blind.
The National Library, Division for the Blind
The National Library, located in Manila, was created in 1900 as an attached agency of the Department of Education. In 1988, legislation was passed by the Philippine Congress that mandated the creation of a Division for the Blind at the National Library. By 1994, a space of 400 square meters was provided on the main floor of the library to accommodate the Division for the Blind. Three personnel were assigned to the Division; a Division Chief and two librarians.
Currently, the library contains 922 braille titles, 880 cassette titles, and 462 large print titles. All of the braille and large print titles, and most of the cassette titles, are in the English language and have been donated by overseas libraries or schools for the blind. English is widely spoken throughout the country, and all blind students learn to read English braille, making the Philippines a welcome recipient of these donated books. At this time though, there is not a single braille or large print title in Tagalog, the national language, in the Division for the Blind Library.
In 1997, there were 31 registered readers, and 58 reader visits availing of 161 titles. In 1998, a campaign to promote the services of the library resulted in an increase to 101 registered readers, with 856 reader visits, availing of 633 titles. Although blind readers are permitted to take books out of the library, (a privilege not granted to sighted users of print books at the National Library), mail service to out of town readers is not available.
A Presidential Executive Order earlier this year, removed the National Library from the jurisdiction of the Department of Education and placed it under the National Commission on Arts and Culture. It remains to be seen what affect this move will have on the Division for the Blind.
1) Due to the increasing number of blind students enrolled in schools outside Metro Manila, some means of serving these clients by mail needs to be explored. (Free Mailing privileges for the blind were granted in 1989 by an Executive Order but this privilege does not extend to government organisations such as the National Library. It has also been difficult for individuals outside of Metro Manila to avail of free mail privileges.)
2) The collection of titles currently available at the Division for the Blind is almost entirely the result of overseas braille libraries clearing their shelves of unwanted titles. Many of these titles are of interest and benefit to readers in the Philippines, but the means to produce locally relevant titles and Tagalog language titles needs to be developed.
3) Unless services can be developed that will increase the number of readers making use of the Library for the Blind, it will become increasingly difficult to justify the prime floor space and staff now provided to the Division for the Blind.
A good beginning for a library for the blind has been made in the Philippines. A prime piece of real estate, along with three staff, has been provided at the first floor of the National Library in Manila. A growing population of literate blind persons nationwide will increase the demand for the services of a library for the blind. Developing the appropriate means to provide these services needs to be an urgent priority in order to preserve the noteworthy gains that have been made. On behalf of those who will benefit from the services of a Library for the Blind, we are looking to this gathering of experts for new ideas in how to address the challenges we face.