Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Euro, also meets the needs of the visually impaired

A person's ability to deal easily with money is fundamental to one's ability to lead an independent life. For thousands of Maltese living with some form of visual impairment it is essential for the introduction of the euro to be recognised as a good opportunity to ensure that this ability is achieved with confidence and ease. Inclusion is fundamental to the changeover process.

This essentially means that the visually impaired be consulted to effectively gauge their needs with regard to the euro changeover process and meanwhile empowering them to manage this change. From the early stages of the design of the euro notes and coins, associations for the visually impaired in Europe were consulted and played an active role in the development of the new currency's features.

This inclusive approach resulted in a currency that is much more disability-friendly than the Maltese Lira. This was incorporated in the physical characteristics of euro notes and coins themselves. Coins are of a different size and weight, each having a different pattern milled on the side. This effectively allows the visually impaired to differentiate between each denomination with ease by feeling the rim. Euro notes on the other hand are also of a different size, with increasing size related to increasing value.

In addition, large contrasting print aids recognition, along with the use of raised print on the corner of the notes. In Malta, the preparations for the articulation of the euro communications campaign, the National Euro Changeover Committee (NECC) also engaged in dialogue with different stakeholders including disability groups. Consultative mechanisms have been set up in order to serve as a platform for dialogue.

The aim is to identify the needs of the visually impaired and persons with disability in general when it comes to the provision of information concerning the euro and the delivery of adequate training and familiarisation to enable persons with disability to use the new currency without apprehension. Despite the fact that the euro changeover information campaign is in its initial stages, two issues have already emerged.

The first is that of accessibility to information. All necessary preparations must be taken to ensure that information is accessible to the visually impaired. This requires the development of audio facilities through which practical information about the changeover can be disseminated. The NECC website and other audio aids shall be developed to this end. The second issue that has emerged is the need for practical, 'hands-on' training and assistance. The training will be held well before the adoption of the euro, as trainees need to become accustomed to the new currency. The role of civil society in the delivery of this training is of critical importance.

Organisations and associations representing persons with disability need to take a proactive role in partnering with the NECC to deliver information and training for their members. Intensive training is essential in this regard, and much can be learnt from institutions that have a great deal of experience in this field. The European Blind Union is providing ongoing support and advice in this area, backed by its unparalleled experience gained through the introduction of the euro in 2002. Slowly but surely a framework is being set up with the aim of delivering effective and adequate training tools.

The cascading 'train the trainer' scheme will also be applied in this case, whereby a number of persons will be taught how to deliver the training to other trainers who in turn cascade it down to trainees. Persons with visual impairment will also be participating in the delivery of these training sessions. Representatives of organisations for the visually impaired are also responsible for ensuring that these sessions reach all members and that our collective aims are being achieved. A successful changeover depends to a large extent on its ability to reach the most vulnerable of groups.

The NECC is committed to provide the necessary resources and tools to ensure that persons with disability feel confident and well informed about the new currency. It is our belief that we can achieve this through the support and engagement of all those concerned.


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