Interview with Radu Sergiu Ruba, President of the National Association of the Blind

A life dedicated to improve the situation of the Romanian blind
 
Radu Sergiu Ruba was not born blind in 1954, although his sight was never perfect. At the age of 11 years old, glaucoma made him loose his sight definitely. Since he has become an adult, he has always tried to improve the situation of the blind in Romania. Free access to information is very important in this and here is where the story about Sergiu starts in this interview.
 
‘I was born in a village in the North-West of Romania. My father was a mayor, my mother had an important function in the education system. I intended to go study at the university in the city of Cluj after finishing the school for the blind. But, things went differently and I ended up at the university of Bucharest.
 
‘Until 1971, Romanian media were relatively free. That year, communist dictator Ceausescu introduced a censorship. I decided to protest against it and let my younger sister write a letter to Radio Free Europe, which I gave to a Hungarian lady of Budapest, a tourist in my city. The Hungarian secret service would not know who was behind the sender. Unfortunately, the Romanian border control intercepted the letter which she had put in her handbag. The Securitate (the Romanian secret service, JP) started an investigation and found out that my sister had written the letter. Fortunately, she was clever enough to tell them she had no idea what she had written for me. After that, they went to my mother to speak her about her children’s activities. My mother warned me this action could mean I would be rejected at the university of Cluj. One had to pass difficult examinations to be accepted. On the final day before these examinations, I decided not to study in Cluj, but in Bucharest.’
 
Bucharest is the city where Sergiu still lives. After his university study, 1978, he became a teacher of French for blind children. After the revolution in 1989, his next job was that of inspector of schools for the blind (1990). He helped raising four new schools for these children in Bucharest and other cities. Since 1992, he has been the author of a weekly broadcast about blindness on national radio. The program is called ‘Inside Eye’ and lasts 20 minutes each time. Sergiu is also active in other free press media, like television. To end this list of activities: Sergiu translates literature, French prose and poetry. Besides French, Sergiu also speaks Hungarian, Spanish, Italian and English. His current professional occupation is being President of the National Association of the Blind.
 
The association was founded by queen Elizabeth, wife of king Carol I, in 1906. At first, it was named ‘Society of the Blind’. In 1949, the association was banned by the communist regime. That same regime restored it again in 1956, in order to be able to control the activities for the blind better. The main goal of the association is to promote the rights of disabled people, and of course especially of the blind, in all areas. It was the founding organization of the Romanian National Disability Council. The association develops activities for all Romanian blinds and is also active in the Republic of Moldova. The publication of books in braille and of films is an important activity. Furthermore, it subsidizes operations that can improve the quality of life of individual members. The promotion of sports for the blind is another important item as well. The association organizes clinics in so called ‘lost regions’. To end, it financially helps in developing assistance technology which is not being subsidized by the state. Its priority groups are children and youngsters.
 
Accessibility for the blind in Bucharest
 
A good orientation is the most important thing for a blind person to live as independently as possible. Sergiu tells how it is to move around in Bucharest as a blind. ‘There are some traffic lights that give a signal when it’s safe to cross the street. Buses, trams and the metro do announce their stops. The access to cultural institutions is okay. We don’t use guide dogs in Romania yet. Their training is too expensive. A trainer should first teach the dog and its new owner for a couple of months at the spot. In Bucharest, the problem of stray dogs comes along as well. Guide dogs could be distracted by them. Stray dogs are a problem for blind people in general. They often bark unexpectedly which makes a blind person getting scared.
 
‘The blind have very good access to media and books. One can download books in braille from a FTP-server for only a low fee. The internet connection is very fast (internet accessibility in Romania is actually very well developed in general, JP). On the other hand, adjusted computers are very expensive.’
 
Until now, there’s no center in Bucharest for adults who have lost their sight and who have to rehabilitate. Sergiu has made it his personal project to have built such a center. ‘It’s being built on a piece of land that originally belonged to queen Elizabeth. Several governments picked in parts of it after the Royal family had disappeared out of Romania. I succeeded in obtaining some 2,500 square meters of land where a building of three levels high isarising. In this building, adults who have become blind will be trained to adapt themselves to their new situation. In order to be able to do so, one must remain in an environment where good examples and good services can be found. They will for instance learn how to use kitchen equipment again. They can learn a new profession. Work in a call center, giving massage, working at a radio station, teaching languages or work in the IT-area are all suitable jobs for the blind. Romanian government normally doesn’t support social projects financially. I got the necessary money to start building from several sources.
 
‘In 2007, Romanian economy was booming. That year, I launched a first campaign and collected 225,000 euro mainly from the visually disabled. The mayor of Bucharest donated 500,000 euro. An event by Romanian musicians on public television yielded another 110,000 euro. Still, the building is not finished yet. I need one million euro more to finish it. The minister of Labour already decided to give one million Lei (225,000 euro) in the end.’
 
Love for literature
 
Throughout the years, Sergiu has translated a lot of namely French literature. He works with a speech synthesizer and two computer screens. On one is the original text in French. On the other one the Romanian translation appears. He writes in braille in electronic form. ‘My favorite French prose writer is Gustave Flaubert. I’m also interested in French poetry. A French writer who I know personally and of whom I have translated two books is Michel Tournier (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Tournier). I translated his children’s book ‘Friday or the wild life’ which is based on the story about Robinson Crusoe, seen from the point of view of Friday. I also translated one of his essays.
 
‘I also wrote and issued ten books in Romanian: poetry, esssays and a novel. Right now, I’m finishing my own autobiography which is called "A summer that has never had its sun set”. It’s about how I’ve experienced the world since my blindness at the age of 11.’
 
Besides literature, Sergiu also loves to listen to music. For instance to Carlos Santana with ‘Novus’.    
 
Copyright: Johan Peters, May 28th 2014 - ...