WBU E-Bulletin Volume 16, Issue, October 2020

 Changing What It Means to be Blind!

* WBU e-Bulletin- October 2020 (word.doc)


Dear members of the World Blind Union,

By now, you have heard the tragic news about the passing of our friend and colleague Mr. A.K. Mittal. A.K. succumbed to the COVID-19 virus in September 2020.

I cannot begin to express my sadness at his passing. A.K. was many things to many people: he was a teacher who mentored generations of blind children, giving them access to a high-quality education together with a sense of dignity and a belief in themselves and their capacity and right to live as others. He was a tireless advocate who brought blind people together and helped lead and coordinate our collective work in India and the world. He was the Treasurer and later the Secretary General of the World Blind Union, positions he managed efficiently and responsibly. These and many other things are true, but I will always remember A.K. for his unfailing kindness. He was good to me. He helped and encouraged me. He found ways to build agreement when it seemed like our union would fracture. He was a remarkable man, and his impact on the lives of blind people in India and around the world will be felt for generations to come. We will miss his calm and wise voice, and we will never forget him.

Turning to the General Assembly, as you know we had to postpone it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Later this month, the WBU Officers will meet to discuss plans for the 2021 General Assembly. Of course, no one knows whether we will be able to travel to Madrid for the General Assembly. The Officers will discuss alternatives, including an online, virtual option. As plans develop, we will send out information about the 2021 General Assembly. It is essential that the General Assembly be as inclusive and representative as possible. We are only as strong and effective as our united voices, and that means we must find a way to include as many people from every region of the world in the General Assembly as possible.

On the subject of COVID-19, the pandemic has introduced new barriers to full and equal participation for blind and partially sighted people around the world. The virus has changed the way we work, study, socialize, shop, and so on. For blind and partially sighted people, the virus has brought a new and dramatic spotlight on the challenges we face to full inclusion. We have gathered information to document the impact of the pandemic on the lives of blind and partially sighted people. The report is titled: “AMPLIFYING VOICES: OUR LIVES, OUR SAY” and is available on our website in accessible formats and different languages.

The WBU report documents the needs of blind and partially sighted people resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it does more than document the problems. It calls on local and national governments to include the needs of blind and partially sighted people, together with the needs of all people with disabilities, in their planning and emergency response efforts. Far too often, we are forgotten in the planning. We must raise our voices, and the WBU report is a valuable resource in developing local and national advocacy efforts.

Let me conclude by wishing everyone health and safety. I have no doubt the world will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but at present, it has taken and continues to take a terrible toll on the lives of people everywhere. Please take all possible precautions to stay safe and well.

Thank you for all you do.

Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder, President, WBU



The World Blind Union (WBU) has produced a global report titled “COVID-19: AMPLIFYING VOICES: OUR LIVES, OUR SAY”. The report examines the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on persons who are blind and partially sighted worldwide. The main objective of the study was to listen to the voices of blind and partially sighted people and support their COVID-19 advocacy efforts for inclusive response.

853 people participated in the study and shared their experiences on how the pandemic affected their lives personally. When asked to share the three most difficult challenges they were facing, they identified transportation and mobility; independence, autonomy and dignity; and Mental health and wellbeing. Majority of the respondents observed that accessibility barriers were intensified by the pandemic, making transportation more costly than usual. “This is my toughest challenge because I’m always depending on someone to drive me for doing shopping”, said one respondent. Other regulations such as wearing masks, not touching surfaces, other pedestrians not being supportive, guide dogs not knowing how to observe physical distancing, caused additional challenges with orientation.

On independence, autonomy and dignity, respondents noted that the loss of access to personal assistance took away their independence and dignity, forcing them to turn to others for help. A respondent observed: “I’m unable to secure sufficient finance to ensure basic needs such as food and accommodation. I may be forced to live and depend on relatives. I anticipate living less meaningfully with no social life, no means of listening to world news, no contact with friends and no choice of recreation or entertainment.”

On mental health and wellbeing, respondents observed that having to navigate through the ‘new normal’ in the pandemic led to greater levels of anxiety. Many repeatedly described feelings of frustration, anxiety, anger, low self-esteem and demotivation from losing their autonomy and independence.

Through this report, WBU hopes to raise awareness on the specifics of what those challenges have meant in reality for its constituents, as well as shed light on what have been effective resilience strategies for them. The study was made possible with the support of CBM Global.

The WBU formerly launched the report at a virtual webinar held on 4 September, attended by a high level panel including Ms. Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the UN Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility; Mr. David Bainbridge, the Executive Director of CBM Global; Mr. Danlami Umaru Basharu, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); Ms. Rosario Galarza, member of the Executive Committee of Latin American Union of the Blind  and WBU President, Dr. Fred Schroeder.

The report, in accessible formats and different languages, is available on the WBU website,  the webinar recording and transcripts are also available on the WBU website.


The World Blind Union (WBU) and the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI) conducted a webinar on 29 July 2020 on “Promoting Inclusive Education in the time of COVID-19”. It was an opportunity to share inclusive education advocacy tools and best practices based on the International Disability Alliance (IDA) Inclusive Education Global Report and the linkage with UNESCO’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report). Discussions focused on COVID-19 challenges in education and the Reports’ Relevance and Perspectives for the Education of Learners with Visual Impairments.

Panellists included the WBU President Dr. Fred Schroeder, ICEVI President Dr. Frances Gentle, the ICEVI Chief Executive Officer Dr. M.N.G. Mani, ICEVI First-Vice President, Dr Praveena Sukhraj-Ely, President of ICEVI West Asia Dr Bushan Punani, President of ICEVI Latin America Cristina Sanz and Ms Dorodi Sharma, the Inclusive Development Officer, IDA. The webinar recording and transcripts are available on the WBU website.


Some key lessons to be learned from the crisis, the perspective of blind and partially sighted people (EBU Position Paper September 2020)

Undoubtedly, the Corona virus has been changing our lives dramatically. In particular the lockdown measures that were implemented in many countries have had a massive impact on almost all areas of life. While this is true for all of us, this unprecedented situation presented, and in some cases continues to present, even more challenges for the estimated 30 million blind and partially sighted people in Europe. In this document, the European Blind Union (EBU), attempts to draw some key lessons learned from the crisis. We do so in the hope that those lessons learned will greatly help societies at large to be more inclusive for visually impaired people moving forward; whether in a situation of a major crisis or at “normal” times. Read more


The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) released the “Flatten Inaccessibility” research report, the culmination of survey findings from 1,921 U.S. participants who are blind or have low vision. Of those who participated, 65% of participants were blind and 35% had low vision. Forty three percent (43%) reported having an additional disability, with diabetes, hearing impairment, and significant psychiatric disorders being the most frequently reported.

The survey investigated the experiences of these participants during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to determine how they were affected in areas including transportation availability, healthcare, access to food and supplies, employment, education, and voting. Read more on AFB website


By CBM Global Disability Inclusion

As the COVID pandemic continues to escalate across the world, this document has been prepared to:

  • provide some top-line advocacy messages that can be used for advocacy and communications
  • give you 2/3 questions example you can ask yourself/or other stakeholders to check how people with disabilities are being included
  • provide key resources for further reading.

CBM recognises the importance of safe, evidence-based messages, and stand by the advice of the World Health Organisation on health-related issues, of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on international coordination, and of the International Disability Alliance on inclusion of people with disabilities in the COVID-19 response.

This document is consistent with this advice and seeks to ensure its application for all. Download the full document at IDA website.


The development of this guide was led by UN Women and Translators without Borders on behalf of the Risk Communication and Community Engagement Working Group on COVID-19 Preparedness and Response in Asia and the Pacific, co-chaired by WHO, IFRC and OCHA.

Women, the elderly, adolescents, youth, and children, persons with disabilities, indigenous populations, refugees, migrants, and minorities experience the highest degree of socio-economic marginalization. Marginalized people become even more vulnerable in emergencies. This is due to factors such as their lack of access to effective surveillance and early-warning systems, and health services. The COVID-19 outbreak is predicted to have significant impacts on various sectors.

The populations most at risk are those that:

  • depend heavily on the informal economy;
  • occupy areas prone to shocks;
  • have inadequate access to social services or political influence;
  • have limited capacities and opportunities to cope and adapt and;
  • limited or no access to technologies.

By understanding these issues, we can support the capacity of vulnerable populations in emergencies. We can give them priority assistance, and engage them in decision-making processes for response, recovery, preparedness, and risk reduction. Read more



We at the World Blind Union (WBU) are shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden passing of our Secretary General, Mr Ajai Kumar Mittal on September 22.

Mr. Mittal was the Secretary General of the World Blind Union since 2016 and the Chairman of the WBU Development Committee. Previously, he was the WBU Treasurer from 2008 till 2016.

Mr. Mittal was an integral part of the self-help movement of the blind for more than 40 years. He was the president of the All India Confederation of the Blind, one of the principal organizations of the blind in India.

Mr. Mittal was passionate about learning and promotion of Braille, access to quality education for all blind and partially sighted children and about ensuring involvement of developing countries in WBU work.

His leadership, expertise and strong sense of social justice will be sorely missed. Read more messages on the WBU website.


The World Blind Union scholarships are available. Preference is given to blind and partially sighted applicants from low income countries. Eligible candidates are encouraged to apply for the following scholarships:

  1. Barbara Marjeram Braille Literacy Scholarship for blind women and girls in developing countries

Established in 2008 the Barbara Marjeram Scholarship selection committee awards one or more scholarships annually to blind and visually impaired girls and women between the ages of 14 – 30 years living in a developing country. Applicants are expected to possess Braille reading and writing skills or be willing to pursue a course to learn Braille.

Scholarships range from $300 – $500 US each with up to six or more awards each year to students enrolled in a recognized education program in their country or enrolled in a recognized distance learning program. Award recipients may also be eligible for a further one time grant for a self-employment project.

  1. Gerald Dirks Scholarship for Advancement of Braille Literacy

Established in 2013 the Gerald Dirks Scholarship Selection Committee awards one or more scholarships annually, up to $1000 US each, to eligible blind or visually impaired women and men between the ages of 18 – 35 years from a developing country, with preference given to the African Union.  Applicants are expected to possess Braille reading and writing skills. Candidates should have pre-requisite education or training to qualify either as a teacher of blind pupils; train as a teaching assistant working alongside a qualified teacher in the classroom or be involved in a creative braille literacy project.

  1. The Mary Hochhausen Prize for Music and Literacy

Established in 2014 by the Hochhausen family to honour the memory of Mary Hochhausen, the Prize is presented annually by the end of June.  Focus is directed to young blind women and men between the ages of 18 – 35 years who have a specific interest in and demonstrated talent for music living in a developing country. Preference will be given to candidates living in the African Union.

Two or more prizes may be awarded in any one year up to a value of $2000 US each related to learning braille/braille music notation.   Funds are also available for creating a school music program or similar project.  Applicants are expected to possess Braille reading and writing skills; and have a demonstrated musical talent with an interest to further their education and/or work toward a career in music. For more information, visit the WBU scholarships webpage.


The World Blind Union jointly with the Kenya Union of the Blind (KUB) conducted a webinar on “Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya in Compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)”, on 6 August 2020. The webinar was an opportunity to share findings of a study conducted by the KUB jointly with WBU.

For the first time, KUB and WBU documented a comprehensive report examining the extent to which Kenya’s activities aimed at achieving the goals and targets set out in the SDGs include and consider people with disabilities and comply with its commitments under the CRPD. This is in line with WBU’s priority of engaging with members, organizations of persons with disabilities, international development organizations and other stakeholders to protect and promote the human rights of blind and partially sighted persons to ensure they are fully included in the national development agenda. The study shares Personal experiences of persons with disabilities and policy level discussions of the SDGs and the CRPD in Kenya. It was supported by the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and made possible with funding from the UK Department of International Development (Inclusive Futures) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.

The full report, in English and Swahili, and the webinar recordings are available on the WBU website.


WBU was represented at the Urban 20 Mayors Summit side event held virtually on 30th September. U20 brings together cities from G20 member states and additional observer cities to find common ground and advocate for critical urban issues that transcend borders, including climate action, social inclusion and integration, and sustainable economic growth.

The U20 commenced the summit this year with a series of side events hosted by U20 Knowledge partners and/or U20 Cities. Each side event tackled the U20 themes and priorities to discuss policy tools and recommendations pertaining to sustainable urban development.

WBU Program officer/ Bilateral Associate Expert, Global Program for Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development, Mr. Hannes Juhlin Lagrelius was a panelist at a side event co-hosted by Global Smart Cities Alliance, World Enabled and G3ict. The session discussed “Taking Action to Build Inclusive, Accessible Smart Cities”. Mr. Lagrelius highlighted challenges towards building more inclusive and accessible cities such as implementation of accessibility standards, comprehensive policy actions on disability inclusion, lack of data, awareness, and resources. Read more

Meanwhile, WBU supported the annual Urban October campaign led by the UNHABITAT. Urban October is an opportunity for everyone to be part of the conversation about the challenges and opportunities created by the fast rate of change in our cities and towns.

The month begins with World Habitat Day on the first Monday of the month, 5 October in 2020, and ends with World Cities Day on 31 October. Read more

In January this year, WBU and UN-Habitat signed a milestone agreement to work together to make cities accessible for all. Read more.


The World Blind Union (WBU) joined the rest of the world in observing White Cane Safety Day on 15 October.

White Cane Safety Day reminds the world of the importance of the White Cane as a tool for independent living for persons who are blind and partially sighted. As the world grapples with the impact of COVID-19, we took the opportunity to remind law and policy makers and all stakeholders involved to ensure that designing or redesigning proper infrastructure adheres to COVID-19 protocols, that universal design is considered and everyone is sensitized. It is necessary for all of us to adjust to the “new normal” and in doing so, no one must be left behind. Read full statement.


On Thursday 8 October, the WBU joined the rest of the world in observing World Sight Day. World Sight Day is the main advocacy event for raising awareness about blindness and vision impairment – The Right To Sight – and is observed annually on the second Thursday of October.

This year’s Call to Action is: Hope in Sight. We urged governments to take a proactive approach to ensure adequate, accessible, and affordable health care for all, in their quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 3 which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. Governments must provide comprehensive and equitable eye care services for all, with emphasis on vulnerable groups. Read full statement.



On 21 October, CBM Global Disability Inclusion along with the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities and the International Disability Alliance officially launched the very first comprehensive Disability Data advocacy toolkit at a session during the UN virtual World Data Forum. The aim of this toolkit is to contribute to the growing global dialogue on the importance of data on persons with disabilities, specifically to provide some basic knowledge on data collection, analysis, and use of data for evidenced based advocacy to influence policy and decision makers. Read more


Creativity and cultural diversity have always been key drivers of urban success. At WUF10, for the first time culture, creativity and innovation were at the centre of the global conversation about the liveability, vitality and sustainability of cities. The Forum’s theme, “Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation,” recognised that culture is an integral part of the solution to the challenges of urbanisation and achieving the New Urban Agenda. Read full report.


This report is a qualitative research study carried out by the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities in May and June of 2020 to gain information on additional and new pandemic-related barriers that persons with disabilities encounter.

The study aimed to complement existing COVID-19 efforts by gathering data from (1) semi-structured interviews with open-ended queries with leaders from the disability movement, (2) empirical data collection from regional focus group webinars to collect testimonials, and (3) empirical data collection and analysis of organizations of persons with disabilities in three countries in Latin America. The data were gathered around thematic units related to the global pandemic. These seven themes included living situation, safety concerns, home life and housing conditions, health care, social protection, employment and COVID-19 disability data. Download full report at IDA website


The world of work is being profoundly affected by the global virus pandemic. In addition to the threat to public health, the economic and social disruption threatens the long-term livelihoods and wellbeing of millions. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and its constituents – Governments, workers and employers – will play a crucial role in combating the outbreak, ensuring the safety of individuals and the sustainability of businesses and jobs. Read more


Friendly reminder to members: Please check your contact information on our website to ensure that it is up to date at: Member Regions and Organizations.

Should you change your contact information any time please update us. You can contact Ianina at ianina.rodriguez@wbu.ngo


Our regions are the bridge between the international level of work and the local level. Policies and treaties constructed at global levels are then carried out by our members in their own countries. Most of the regions have their own websites where they post updates on their work, member activities, and upcoming events in their area.



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Contribution from Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland) toward supporting table officers’ participation from developing countries.

The World Blind Union is registered in Canada as a charitable organization in order to raise funds for our work. Donations from individuals or groups are always appreciated and can be made via the “Donate Now” button on our website.


We welcome articles from the regions and from members who wish to share their good news with the rest of the world. Our next deadline for content is January 7th, 2021. We accept submissions in English, French, and Spanish in electronic format. Please note that we retain the right to edit submissions due to space limitations. Send your news to: Terry.Mutuku@wbu.ngo

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