by José Monteagudo
From the Editor: José Monteagudo serves as Past President of the Latin American Blind Union (ULAC) and is a member of the National Council of the National Association of the Blind of Cuba (ANCI). At the Melbourne meeting of the World Blind Union last November, he and President Maurer agreed to exchange articles about their home organizations for publication in their magazines. Here is Mr. Monteagudo's article about the organization of the blind in Cuba:
The history of blind people in Cuba is very similar to that of the other countries of Latin America, even at present. The Braille system, thanks to which blind people are able to read and write, was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century, but it became really effective in 1927 when the first school for blind boys and girls was created. By the way, two of the teachers of that school were trained in the United States, as far as I've ever known, at Perkins School for the Blind.
For many years there was only one school for blind people in the island, and the blind in Cuba had very few opportunities of employment or access to rehabilitation services, sports, art, culture, recreation, and so forth.
Blind people made many efforts to create associations in order to become stronger and more organized with the purpose of getting more benefits, but for several reasons they did not succeed until 1975 with the creation of the National Association of the Blind of Cuba. Life for blind people began to be different as a consequence of the many social changes that have been taking place in our country in the last forty years.
The establishment of this body has been very important in the history of Cuban blind people. Now it is impossible to talk about the situation of this social group without mentioning ANCI, which is the acronym for the National Association of the Blind. This association, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, came into being in order to unite the efforts of blind people to improve their own situation.
At this time 19,000 members organized in fourteen provincial branches and 164 municipal districts throughout the country constitute ANCI. Basic rehabilitation, education, sports and recreation, promotion of arts and literature among its members, employment, and spreading understanding about the true limitations and possibilities of blind and visually impaired people are the principal aims of ANCI.
Competitions in judo, track and field, goal ball, swimming, fishing, dominos, checkers, chess, theater, music, dance, camping and so forth take place every year at municipal, provincial, and national levels. More than 140 special workshops are devoted exclusively to employing disabled people, including blind and visually impaired people. Only some 600 blind and low-vision people who are able to work and willing to do so are not employed in Cuba. The fifteen special schools, one in each province's capital city, take care of the education of all blind and partially sighted children.
Every two years all the members of the association in each municipal district get together to analyze the results of their efforts, to elect the authorities and the delegates to the provincial assemblies, and to approve the plan of action for the next period. The provincial assemblies, constituted by all the delegates of the municipal districts, elect the Provincial Councils and the representatives to the National Assembly.
Some two hundred delegates from all over the country elect the National Assembly of ANCI every five years. This body elects the National Council, discusses the information about the last five years, and approves the national plan of action for the next period.
Daily living activities, orientation and mobility (cane travel), and Braille teaching are the main aspects of the basic rehabilitation services ANCI supports with the help of volunteers in the community. Besides that, since 1990 ANCI has managed a National Rehabilitation Center near Havana that can offer services to fifty people every five months. This center was built and equipped by the Cuban government with important help from the Norwegian Association of the Blind.
An annual government grant makes it possible for ANCI to cover wages, electricity, fuel, communications, recreational activities, and other expenses. Fifty houses in the main cities of the country and thirty‑five cars help ANCI to develop its action in support of its members and to take care of the administration of resources.
A small group of sighted people works at every provincial office of ANCI to help blind and visually-impaired authorities carry out their duties. A greater number work to the same purpose in ANCI's Headquarters in Havana, in the National Rehabilitation Center, and in the Cultural and Recreational Center--a social club, where the Braille printing facilities, the central Braille library, and the talking book service are also located.
According to the ANCI Constitution up to five percent of its members can be sighted people, and they may be elected to carry out any responsibility at any level except for president and vice president.
ANCI maintains contact with a great number of blind and low-vision organizations and bodies devoted to services for the blind in Latin America and Europe. The National Association of the Blind of Cuba is a member of the World Blind Union (WBU) and the Latin American Blind Union (ULAC).