Blind Leading the Blind…? Why not!?

Joyce Lopez works as the head of the Life Transformation Department at Resources for the Blind Inc. (RBI) in the Philippines. Although her siblings have moved to the United States, she remains in the country of her birth, living with her parents about forty-five minutes (by public transport) from the RBI offices in Manila and working to provide visually impaired students with the opportunity to discover their full potential. Joyce oversees the blind pastors that RBI sends to schools to work with blind children, she writes proposals, and from time to time she speaks as an advocate for the blind. When she’s not at work with RBI, she sometimes teaches computer tutorials for blind students. Joyce is a remarkable, bright young woman.

Joyce is also completely blind, and has been from birth.

Joyce Lopez at Work

Joyce Lopez at Work

Joyce has benefited from the work of RBI throughout her entire educational experience. In her elementary days, RBI provided all the school materials (books, equipment for writing in Braille, etc.) that she needed. She also attended their summer camp. In college, Joyce was selected by RBI for a scholarship. In her fourth year, they asked her to provide mentorship to fellow students, and the school president recommended her for an internship at RBI. Halfway through that internship, she was recommended for employment.

Joyce is hard working and gifted, but she is also the beneficiary of an organization that has encoded in its DNA the belief that any student, regardless of disability, has the potential to make a positive difference in the world.

The impetus for the founding of Resources for the Blind, Inc. came from an American, Dr. Arthur Lown, a blind man whose initial work in the Philippines involved helping three blind Filipino pastors transcribe the Filipino Bible into braille. He then realized the great need for a wide range of services for the blind. RBI was officially incorporated in 1988, and has grown significantly since then. It is now fully led and staffed by Filipinos, who help train teachers in educating people with visual impairment, work with the blind to help them secure employment, and help with blindness prevention and rehabilitation.

RBI is a remarkable organization not just for the work that it does, however, but also for the fact that a number of staff members (such as Joyce) are blind themselves.

In 2018, SIL LEAD was announced as one of the winners of the Book Boost competition.

The Book Boost program required SIL LEAD to have a partner organization that would help field test the enhanced Bloom, which was being redesigned to better meet the needs of visually impaired readers. As Executive Director Dr. Paul Frank weighed the options, he thought of RBI. Paul had first met the executive director of RBI, Amy Mojica, at a Gates Foundation “Global Challenges for Development” summit in 2016. So he knew that RBI had experience in an All Children Reading project, and that they were well established in the Philippines as a key provider of services to the visually impaired. As a bonus, RBI also shares a common faith with SIL LEAD—so they seemed an ideal field partner for our Book Boost project.  

RBI was enthusiastic about partnering with us. Although it required extra effort to get to know one another from half a world away, RBI eagerly took up the challenge of learning to use Bloom. SIL LEAD supplied certified Bloom Trainers to train RBI staff in Bloom, and to then help that staff in training teachers who work with blind and visually impaired students to use it. Together they worked on testing out the new version of Bloom for producing accessible books.

When lead Bloom developer John Hatton was able to visit RBI in the Philippines, he was in for a pleasant surprise. Although Bloom could produce accessible books, the program itself hadn't been fully adapted for use by the visually impaired, visually impaired people in the organization had already authored a number of books. And John found that the children enjoyed listening to the stories and especially liked hearing the voice of their teacher as narrator. The sound effects included in the audio were fun. In this previously-shared video, we can hear students calling out for a story one of their teachers had written: ["The Chicken, The Chicken, we want to hear the story about the chicken!"]

Joyce Lopez and others like her have been instrumental in helping us discover ways that Bloom can be used to better meet the needs of the visually impaired.

We at SIL LEAD take any opportunity we can to help members of marginalized communities advocate for the changes that they want to see. So we’ve been thrilled to partner with RBI, an organization not just for the blind, but of the blind as well. We believe that the inclusion and engagement of people like Joyce allows RBI to keep its finger directly on the pulse of the people it exists to serve. It’s a beautiful example of what “community-based organization” really means.

Can you imagine a world in which members of all marginalized communities play a key role in writing their own stories?

It’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it?