Establishment of SABA
The South African Braille Authority (SABA) was established as an NGO on 4 May, 2012. Articles 4 and 5 of SABA’s constitution describe SABA’s purpose and objectives. Although there are many of them, but the most important ones are: to set and maintain standards for quality braille, to do Braille research, to produce braille manuals, to promote the teaching and use of braille in all South African languages, to conduct braille examinations, to expedite the procurement and transcription into braille of school textbooks and to participate in international braille related bodies, such as the International Council on English Braille (ICEB).
SABA has the support of the Braille sector and strives for the widest possible participation. Its membership consists of organisations which have a stake in Braille, schools for the blind, student disability units at universities. Currently we have 20 member organisations, about half of which are schools and the remainder are other organisations. We plan to expand membership, especially of schools.
To perform our many duties we need the necessary external funding. Our membership fees alone will by far not be sufficient. They will probably cover only a fraction of our expenses. Currently most of our work is done by volunteers who bear the cost personally.
South Africa is a founding member country of the International Council on English Braille, (ICEB). ICEB’s membership consists of eight member countries, namely:
• New Zealand;
• South Africa;
• United Kingdom; and
• United States.
ICEB had its fifth General Assembly on May 5-10, 2012 hosted here in South Africa and they (the ICEB’s assembly members) had an opportunity of attending our inaugural meeting of SABA. Coupled with that, ICEB’s community was so impressed about the whole arrangement, including the presentation by the Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture. This puts us under immense pressure that we ought to survive, we made an internationally renowned stride to put our country on the map and, yes, indeed, we made it!
A country can become a member of ICEB only through its Braille authority, for that reason we need SABA to qualify for membership of ICEB. Since ICEB’s inception in 1992 South Africa has played a leading role in ICEB in the field of research into and the adoption of the unified Braille code and its application to the Braille codes of all South African languages as well as many other braille related matters. Membership of ICEB is vital for South Africa.
One of the early ICEB presidents was a South African, Miss Connie Aucamp, a stalwart in Braille development and development of braille manuals in South Africa. In March 2014 Christo de Klerk, then president of SABA, became president of ICEB. Through the years several South Africans have served on various ICEB committees and on its executive committee and have been involved in many aspects of its work, such as the development of the Unified Braille Code, the development of the braille International Phonetics Alphabet, the publication of braille manuals, braille promotion and advocacy, helping other countries to establish braille authorities, worked on aspects of braille music, tactile graphics, braille signage and braille technology en much more.
ICEB does not provide funds for member countries. Each member country is responsible for its own cost of attending ICEB meetings as well as for the annual ICEB membership fee of $500 (US). ICEB does have some funds, though not much. The funds are mainly utilised to bear the cost of the travel and accommodation of the ICEB president who is deterritorialised and does not represent his/her country, and for specific braille related projects.
NEED FOR BRAILLE AUTHORITY IN SOUTH AFRICA
Firstly, braille is a medium of reading and writing for blind and deaf-blind people. This medium is centred on the use of raised dots which blind and deaf-blind people feel by finger-touching, moving hands from left to right, thereby depicting meaning of the stream of dots. This is a very intricate process and requires a system that will keep a close monitoring so that Braille may not be distorted and undermined.
Secondly, the Authority will exist for the primary benefit of learners who are blind, deaf-blind and those who prefer braille. A learner in his/her tender age will not be able to grapple with technology as his/her mode of reading and writing; this will obviously cause this learner not to be able to correctly spell words.
Thirdly, braille as a code is currently undergoing streamlining to eliminate ambiguity and misrepresentation of print characters and other signs and writing styles. This will never be achieved without proper monitoring and constant alignment.
Furthermore, Braille users do not focus on quantity but on quality. Quality assurance thus is paramount for blind people and, the Authority is a perfect vehicle to this end.
As hinted above, fifth, the Authority will represent Braille users internationally. There are many committees wherein the Authority can play a pivotal role internationally and later, such can be transferred to South African context where users of Braille can benefit.
However, for better understanding, it is important to draw your attention to the following purpose and objectives as outlined in the SABA’s constitution, namely:
CLAUSE 4: PURPOSE
The purpose of the Authority is to provide a national focal point for the coordination and oversight of all braille related matters in South Africa.
CLAUSE 5: OBJECTIVES
The objectives of the Authority are
5.1 Literacy: To promote the recognition of braille as a unique, versatile tactile script (not a language) which is the primary means to literacy for blind and deafblind persons, and to promote braille reading and writing to enhance every aspect of life.
5.2 Cooperation: To promote cooperation among braille practitioners, producers, distributors and end users.
5.3 Liaison: To cooperate with and participate in the activities of relevant bodies locally and internationally.
5.4 Standard Setting: To set standards for best-practice with regard to the production, quality and teaching of braille.
5.5 Braille Codes, General: To facilitate the development, maintenance and implementation of appropriate codes with their supporting (or associated) rules for the official languages of South Africa.
5.6 Braille Codes, Specific: To facilitate the development, maintenance and implementation of appropriate codes for professional and leisure pursuits such as, but not limited to, music, phonetics, chess, crossword puzzles, knitting and crocheting.
5.7 Layout: To facilitate the development, maintenance and implementation of guidelines for the layout of all braille documents.
5.8 Teaching Manuals: To facilitate the writing and production of manuals and other teaching and learning material for teachers, learners, pre-school children, and adult beginners, engaged in teaching and learning braille, and to evaluate their efficacy.
5.9 Assessment Papers: To monitor, assess and advise on the production of accessible assessment and examination papers for subjects at all levels of education.
5.10 Training of Producers: To facilitate the training of all categories of braille production personnel by facilitating the writing and production of relevant manuals and other teaching material and the designing of procedures.
5.11 Translation Tables: To facilitate the development, maintenance and distribution of translation tables for print-to-braille and braille-to-print conversion.
5.12 Tactile Graphics: To facilitate the development, standardisation, production and use of tactile graphics.
5.13 Braille Examinations: To facilitate the setting of national braille examinations on a regular basis and to monitor their implementation and results.
5.14 Field Testing: To facilitate field testing of any proposed change or innovation related to braille codes, production processes or equipment.
5.15 Information Database: To build and maintain an electronic database of applicable information pertaining to braille, which will be accessible to all interested persons.
5.16 Information Distribution: To distribute relevant braille related news and information in as many formats and languages as possible on a regular basis.
5.17 Commercial Applications: To facilitate the development of relevant guidelines and to advise commercial and other entities on braille applications, for example, signage and packaging.
5.18 Advice and Adjudication: To research, advise and/or adjudicate on any braille related matter referred to the Authority for this purpose.
SOME RECENT AND CURRENT PROJECTS
• A manual to teach English braille to beginners who are not young children was published in 2012 under the auspices of SABA.
• A similar manual but for isiZulu braille was produced and work is on progress for our other languages.
• Training material to teach the transition to the new Unified Braille Code (UBC) was made available.
• A training course was presented to teachers in the use of the UBC for technical material, such as maths and science.
• Braille examinations were conducted.
• A training manual for grade 1 braille was produced for the training of teachers at schools for the blind which is planned to take place as soon as the Department of Basic Education is ready to do so.
• Further training courses in the use of the UBC for technical material and in grade 2 braille to teachers at schools for the blind are planned in order to comply with the instruction of the Minister of Basic Education that all teachers of blind learners must know braille.
• SABA is engaging with the Department of Basic Education to expedite the procurement for the conversion into braille of school textbooks, a process which has unfortunately been taking an unacceptably long time while learners are in desperate need of the books.
• SABA publishes a newsletter, the Louis Braille Bulletin, every six months which is its official mouthpiece.
• SABA will perform quality assurance for a new braille production unit.
• SABA’s Advocacy Committee is involved in several braille advocacy related matters, such as engaging with the lift industry to provide braille labels outside lift doors to indicate to a blind user on which floor he/she is.