He used to draw alongside world-famous Christo when he was a child, but at the age of 18 colors left his sight and he has lived in a world with no images ever since. Today, at the age of 83 Spas Karafezov takes fatherly care of the souls of those who share his fate.
He is the head of the Louis Braille National Community Center for Visually Impaired People. The institution was founded by great composer Petko Stainov and in 2018 it is to mark its 90th anniversary. The center serves as the only publishing house for Braille literature and it is also a national library with 3,000 books and 13,000 e-titles. The community center not only prepares the Braille books, but it also transports those to the readers’ houses. The books had been handmade for years, but donations of the Open Society Foundation and the Japanese Embassy provided for a special printer that has been used for two decades now. The creation of Braille books is a very expensive process due to the paper imported. Unfortunately the state grants no funding on this activity and the community center relies on donators only.
“We started to create e-books back in 1994, first under DOS and then via the SpeechLab software, thanks to the Association for Computational Linguistics,” Spas Karafezov says. “A visually impaired person can now enter the Internet, use the smartphone, PC, tablet. The file is downloaded from a 24/7 server machine that we maintain and the text is transformed into speech. One may listen to it, change the speed, look for different pages etc.”
Visually-impaired people can open any book with the so-called tactile display, reading the text with their fingers. At the same time the device is very expensive – students and employees cannot afford it, while in Germany for instance the latter receive it for free. Braille readers have been declining in number year on year, but the Braille system still remains an irreplaceable literacy tool, especially if a person studies foreign languages, Spas Karafezov says.
“Visually impaired people have small chances to find a job,” he adds. “The government provides opportunities under certain programs, funded by the EU, but the percentage is low there. Unfortunately there are few options for work, as the entire world is grounded on eyesight and everything is served visually. Tech progress results in the dropping of many manual labor operations, but intellectual occupations still matter and hence for the importance of education. A visually impaired kid shouldn’t grow up isolated, but should be taught how to use modern software and tactile displays since very early age. This child should be at the same level and even better than his or her coevals, in order to have success in life.”
Spas Karafezov adds that there are successful young and visually impaired people – legal experts, teachers at the special schools, artists. On the International Day of Visually Impaired People – November 13, he wishes them bravery and serious preparation for life.
“Integration starts inside – it’s an inner thing and protection of their dignity with honor. I think that a person can always find his or her path in life, no matter the circumstances and the physical condition of the body,” Spas Karafezov says in conclusion.
English version: Zhivko Stanchev
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