Blinded by measles at the age of three, Peter Tiamiu grew up with a hunger for learning and reading that led him to develop a Braille "desktop publishing" project. He is now creating a network of Braille centers across Nigeria to produce reading materials and provide Braille literacy training.
The New Idea
Peter Tiamiu is establishing independent Braille production centers to produce materials that cater for the academic, developmental, spiritual and leisure interests of the visually impaired. The centers also provide supplementary training in Braille literacy, enhancing the literacy culture among the visually impaired. Finally, the centers offer training in Braille printing for those who are prepared to try to expand Braille publishing further.
In Nigeria blindness and visual impairment are very common. It is estimated that the blind population in Nigeria is between two to three million. The causes of blindness are typically measles, glaucoma, cataracts, and the overwhelming lack of eye care services. There are fewer than 300 ophthalmologists in all of Nigeria, a country of over 100 million.Despite the large number of visually impaired people in the country, the production and use of Braille materials is quite low. It is estimated that fewer than 10,000 Nigerians know how to use Braille. Braille production in Nigeria is handled by a very small number of schools producing textbooks for their respective students, the National Education Research Council, which produces a few select textbooks, and the Federal Ministry of Social Welfare which produces examination papers. Until Peter came along there was no private sector Braille publisher–either for-profit or nonprofit. The emphasis of public sector efforts is on textbooks and educational materials. Correspondingly, opportunities to read for informal learning, personal development, or entertainment are virtually non-existent.Peter's research has found that without Braille skills, employment opportunities for the visually impaired are drastically reduced. Or, put positively, the better jobs that are held by visually impaired persons correlate 100 percent with Braille skills. To compound the problem, even those visually handicapped people who possess strong skills are discriminated against by a general public that does not understand the capability of blind people and who have never been exposed to ways in which the workplace can be made enabling for the visually impaired.Like other disabled persons, the result is that the visually impaired typically lack self-confidence. Peter is convinced that an enhanced literacy culture will build self-confidence by increasing their general attitude and knowledge. The result will be a new vigor in their interactions with society.
Peter's strategy is simple and direct: he has stepped into a complete gap in the market and is publishing and distributing Braille materials not otherwise available and "franchising" his Braille production centers to visually impaired entrepreneurs across Nigeria.While the market opportunity for Braille publishing for 2 million Nigerians would seem obvious, the struggle to establish this service in the face of institutional indifference has been epic. After two years of fruitless pursuit of partnerships with educational institutions with large numbers of blind students, the Mass Braille Production Project began operating in January 1993 by supplying materials to students at the Blind Training Center in Peter's hometown of Ijebo-Igbo. Once he was in production and could demonstrate the demand for his materials, he began to expand to visually handicapped students and workers in three neighboring states. Peter has developed the production center at Ijebo-Igbo as a model that can be franchised to visually handicapped entrepreneurs elsewhere. He has one large contract for prescribed textbooks with the Training Center that utilizes about half of his production capacity. From the outset, however, he has supplied a wider range of materials than have ever before been available–including vocational "how to" books, Braille readers, personal growth tracts, calendars and a monthly magazine of "clippings" from other periodicals. His publications proved to be in high demand among the students and other visually impaired people that he reached through the Training Center, and he continually adds to his publications list. For example, he is now selectively publishing and distributing the newsletter of leading nongovernmental organizations so his readers can be more informed about the work of social institutions not specializing in work with disabled persons. Another important new line of work is through contracts with mainstream publishers to produce small numbers of Braille copies as part of their first edition releases. These are sold to educational institutions and libraries with a view to stimulating the kind of demand that will convince the publishers to expand their contracts with Peter.With the Ijebo-Igbo production center operating at a small profit, Peter is turning his attention to promoting franchise "Brailletec Centers" located in communities or clusters of communities all across the country. The target population will include schools for the blind in the area, schools that have blind students, blind students and workers, and other blind individuals and their families. The centers will be provided with a "publications list" from Peter's original Ijebo-Igbo production center, but will also be encouraged to innovate their own products. As with the Ijebo-Igbo production center, the franchise centers would both produce Braille products and provide supplementary training in Braille. A Braille lending library is also part of the design. Eventually, Peter expects the Centers to be computerized, increasing their capability to produce large quantities of the materials. However, he wants to continue the manual production, as in the Ijebo-Igbo production center, for the time being because newer technology is not widely affordable and manual production provides greater employment opportunities for visually handicapped workers.Initially, training in Braille publishing will be done at the Ijebo-Igbo production center. In time, however, training will in whole or in part be decentralized to the more efficient Brailletec Centers.
Peter Salau Tiamiu is the oldest of seven children born to poor parents. Blind since the age of three, he was aware at an early age he would have to study and work very hard to achieve the goals he set for himself. His parents always encouraged him, but Peter realized that he needed to learn to help himself. Reading was always one of his greatest pleasures. He loved being read to as a child and later became a voracious Braille reader. His lifelong frustration with the paucity of Braille materials built up during his years as a teacher. For a number of years he badgered and lobbied various institutions and government departments about the problem only to meet with stony resistance. Ultimately, he realized that he must embark on the task himself. Peter has a degree in Special Education from the University of Ibadan and has authored several books on the use of Braille and the development of effective learning habits.