El-Akhbar Braille breaks barriers for Egypt’s blind

Sunday 02/07/2017
A dream come true. The cover of the first edition of El-Akhbar Braille.

Cairo - Egypt, like many other Arab countries, is not known for the quality of services to its blind com­munity. However, El-Akh­bar Braille, a new monthly maga­zine, aims to be the first officially licensed publication written by journalists with visual impairments to serve Egypt’s more than 3 million blind people.
El-Akhbar Braille Editor-in-Chief Ahmed el-Maraghy said he had long wanted to publish a publica­tion designed for Egypt’s visually impaired community. After several false starts, the first edition of El- Akhbar Braille was published in late April.
“Ten years ago, I met a visually impaired man who works on print­ing in Braille. Through him and others I learned that there was a huge potential market for this. Ever since then I have been trying to is­sue a magazine for the visually im­paired,” Maraghy said.
Maraghy previously published a magazine for the visually impaired titled Enferad but it was not offi­cially licensed by the government and quickly lost funding. El-Akhbar Braille is the first such publication for the blind to be officially licensed by the Egyptian government.
“Since then I tried several times to publish magazines in Braille but the attempts failed due to fund­ing till the chairman of Akhbar el- Youm, Yasser Rizk, adopted the idea, offering us all the facilities we needed,” Maraghy said.
Akhbar el-Youm is one of Egypt’s best-known newspapers, first pub­lished in 1944 and with a circula­tion estimated to be in the millions. It is state-owned and its editor-in-chief is appointed by Egypt’s Shura Council.
“Afterward, we obtained a li­cence, the first of its kind in the Arab world, from the Supreme Council of Journalism in Egypt,” Maraghy added.
A number of sponsors in addi­tion to Akhbar el-Youm funded the magazine. “We needed fund­ing as printing a paper in Braille costs almost four or five times more than printing an ordinary paper,” Maraghy explained.
Egypt’s visually impaired com­munity expressed joy at the news that there would be a magazine published in Braille.
“As someone with visual impair­ment, I used to hold the newspaper and find myself unable to know what is inside. I have always hoped to have a publication that I can read myself without depending on any­one,” El-Akhbar Braille Managing Editor Ahmed Riyad Abu Hemeela said.
A sighted person flicking through the magazine might think it was full of blank pages but the raised dots that make up the Braille writ­ing contain a wealth of information for Egypt’s blind community.
“In the first edition, we published an interview with the minister of youth, one with a star actress, sto­ries on sports and politics, a feature on human development, a section for literature, another for women and one for children,” Abu Hemeela said.
“We aimed to offer a cultural and news service for a considerable seg­ment of the society other than the few books they could read.”
The preparation of the magazine took about three months, most of which was spent on dealing with the details to obtain an official li­cence and establishing the maga­zine’s structure and contributors.
“We faced problems with the cen­sorship authority as they objected even to the idea of a Braille maga­zine because they had no employ­ees who could read Braille until they hired someone,” Abu Hemeela said.
“We started with publishing 1,000 copies, targeting visually im­paired persons in civil society or­ganisations, libraries at universities and schools and societies for people with disabilities. And we are plan­ning to print 3,000 this month.”
Maraghy, the only fully sighted journalist on staff, concurred.
“Not only did they write the magazine content, they shared in distributing it to special places as well. The whole model is run by this extraordinary squad of five visually impaired journalists and one man­aging editor,” he said.
Abu Hemeela was chosen to rep­resent the magazine staff during a recent youth conference in which El-Akhbar Braille received presiden­tial recognition.
“The president promised me per­sonally to support the magazine,” he said.
Journalist Nahla Suliman, one of the five staff reporters, described her experience with the magazine as a “dream.”
“For me, it is a dream come true as I have always wished to work in the field of journalism and I hope it remains a lovely reality of having a specialised magazine for the visu­ally impaired,” she said. “It is the first step.”
El-Akhbar Braille’s plans entail printing half the magazine in Braille and the other half in Arabic for sighted friends and family members to be able to read it. The magazine staff also hopes to have a website built for the magazine with audio recordings of stories to reach the country’s visually impaired online community.
The magazine’s editorial board said it wanted to work with blind Egyptians, a large percentage of whom are not literate in Braille, to foster a real sense of community.
That is why one of our planned activities is to teach people in vil­lages and remote areas how to read through cooperating with civil soci­ety,” Abu Hemeela said. “This is just the start.”