Chinese library opens world to the blind with music, books and smartphone classes

The library in southwest China gives the often-marginalised group a chance to mingle with society

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 8:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 3:03pm

In a small library in Kunming, the capital of China’s southwestern Yunnan province, you will find a group of people huddling over tables, running their fingers over Braille pages and discovering the world through their fingers.

The library, opened by a private bookstore, is the first of its kind in the province and offers 500 Braille titles to visitors.

Volunteers also run various courses for the blind, including classes in singing and drumming, as well as lessons on how to use screen-reading apps to make phone calls and send instant messages, Chinanews.com reported on Wednesday.

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“Social opportunities are rare (for us). Some families have the ability to take their (visually impaired family members) out to walk around and be in touch with society, but there are some that are closed up at home and isolated from society,” said patron Zhao Yutao.

“Smartphones are tremendously useful for us; it’s almost as if they’ve opened a window for us to enter a new world,” he continued.

Since the library opened last October, 1,000 people have participated in its activities. Volunteers show up daily to serve visitors water and meals, as well as help them navigate roads and search for books.

China is home to the world’s largest number of blind people in the world. The World Health Organisation estimates there were more than 8 million blind people in China in 2010 but the Chinese government puts this figure at more than 12 million.

However, many of these people lack support and facilities. Just 5 per cent of China’s public libraries offer reading rooms for the blind but many of these facilities are seen as inadequate.

The first private Braille library in Beijing only opened in 2011.

By contrast, Japan had 97 such facilities in place, serving 300,000 people, according to a contemporary report from Beijing News.

Japan Braille Library, one of the biggest in the country, has more 20,000 titles, both in Braille and audiobooks, and lends to more than 10,000 users annually.