Innovative Projects on the Agenda: World Blind Union

Date Posted: 10/12/2017

Editor's note: This month's featured international agency is the World Blind Union. We are honoring this agency during October since October 12 is World Sight Day, which is observed annually on the second Thursday of October.

logo has words 2017 world sight day

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, this year's call to action is "Make Vision Count." This is a global event meant to draw attention to blindness and vision impairment and the fact that 80 percent of people in the world who are blind are "avoidably" so.

Visual Impairment in Europe

Across Europe, there are over 30 million blind and partially sighted individuals, and this number is predicted to increase in the next several decades as our population ages. This has two significant meanings for most of us today:

  1. It is highly likely we will know someone who is living with a visual impairment in the future.

  2. Global organizations are coming together to design, develop, and provide the resources necessary to ensure that these individuals receive full accessibility and inclusion to the world we live in.

The European Blind Union

One of those organizations is the European Blind Union (EBU). It’s one of the six regional subsets of the World Blind Union (WBU) that are fully dedicated to playing their part in making sure these services are provided and that additional resources are available to all European countries. The EBU’s constitution states it’s purpose clearly:

“[T]o enable the blind and partially sighted people of Europe to join together to express their views and aspirations and take collective action, in accordance with democratically adopted decisions, to protect and promote their human, civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights; to enhance their self-esteem and enable them to realize their full potential…”

With the help of the WBU and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, EBU’s agenda for 2016 and 2017 has been full of innovative projects to enhance assistive technology access, career training, and overall independence for people with a visual impairment. They’ve put new initiatives into place and have fueled awareness-raising campaigns to create a continent that is better educated, more accessible, and more innovative in the solutions they’re creating.

Let’s shine some light on the handful of the projects from 2016 and 2017 that are continuing to make a huge difference in this global mission.

Enhancing Cultural and Social Awareness

Bridging the Gap Between Museums and Individuals with Visual Impairment (BGMIVI) focuses on educating museum staff, proposing safer, more accessible structural renovations, and installing easier learning access opportunities that will serve to inform and educate museum staff and assist visitors with visual impairments.

As the continent of Europe is full of museums that share the history, art, science, and anthropology of the many diverse cultures that have built their nations, this project holds great importance to visually impaired tourists and natives alike. The project, co-funded by Erasmus+ Programme, was first put into motion in September 2014 and continued through August 2017. Since it’s initiation, it has amplified learning opportunities for individuals with visual impairments and created necessary cultural and social awareness. It encourages European nations to recognize the collective responsibility to be inclusive throughout all the cities of Europe. Organizers and project managers presented the results of their project on May 18-19, at the European Conference held at the University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece.

Innovation and Interaction

REC16, also known as the EBU Work Programme for 2016, provided the region with many innovative capacity-building campaigns, training conferences, and information sharing initiatives that set the precedent for 2017 and beyond. In addition to disseminating key information through their website, press releases, digitally-available publications, and bimonthly newsletters in various languages (English, French, German, Spanish), the EBU produced an interactive video to advocate the rights of individuals with low vision by showcasing inclusivity as part of their mission and various projects.

Key Conferences

Some key conferences and training programs in 2016 that continue to reap benefits in 2017 are:

  • Accessibility: "Accessible Payment Terminals," an e-workshop promoting the standardization and accessibility of payment terminals on a European level
  • Social Media Campaigning: Two masterclasses were held to inform members of the EBU of the importance of social networking via Twitter as a way to buttress campaigns and interact with EU legislators and other government officials
  • Aging: A training course was held in Croatia to educate facilitators in the increasing importance of empowering the aging population especially in the areas of low vision, visual impairments, and their rights and access to rehabilitative services
  • Youth Employability: Visually impaired job seekers met in Italy to receive training around gainful employability. They discussed building a clear, eye-catching CV, strategies for interviewing with confidence, and managing non-verbal communication. Attendees from various countries around the EU made a promise to hold similar smaller training sessions in their native countries.
  • Gender Equality: As the natural follow-up after the production in 2015 of EBU, a publication entitled "The Future We Want: A Toolkit to Promote Gender Equality," a training course was held in Paris on October 28 with EBU Board and staff members. An e-workshop was held on December 8 with the aim of promoting gender equality mainstreaming.
  • New UNCRPD report was produced by the EBU regarding Article 28, "Adequate standard of living and social protection." Also, national legislative provisions on Article 7, "Children with disabilities" are currently being collected.
  • With the European cohort of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments (ICEVI-Europe), the EBU will report on the programs and need for programs to create inclusive learning environments for the blind and visually impaired
  • EBU is creating a report for 2017 release that examines the benefits of braille literacy and best practices for teaching and developing the skill of reading and writing braille

PRO4Vip

The Pro4Vip, or Innovation PROcurement for Visually Impaired People project, aims to tap into innovative assistive technologies that can be used to improve the quality of life of functional low vision individuals. The project also works with vision professionals and experts to find more cost-effective clinical tools that could support physicians in their quest to detect the onset of eye disease and other vision disabling conditions as early as possible.

Coordinated by AQuAS, the Catalan Agency for Health Information, Assessment, and Quality, PRO4VIP was a research project that lasted 18 months. After surveying the experiences of assistive technology users and collecting suggestions from experts during focus group meetings, the project narrowed its focus to improve these prioritized daily life activities.

European Accessibility Act

One of the greatest achievements toward accessibility to information and technology for visually impaired individuals was won by the EBU in December 2016 with the approval of the directive for the European Accessibility Act, first proposed in 2012 and revised in 2015. This will give all visually impaired individuals better access to websites, mobile applications, and public services distributed across networks.

Further Resources

For more information about past projects of the EBU and upcoming events and contests, resources, and publications, you can visit the website for the EBU.

To find out what you can do about your own eye health, read Signs and Symptoms of Vision Problems.

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