Category Archives: ICTs and disabilities

Making use of ICTs 4 Inclusive Education

By Fatima Tuz Zahra

Educational programs have begun to recognize the critical role it can play to enable those often having to cope at the margins. Yes, I am talking about ICTs for inclusive education with its ability to connect people across the boundaries of physical space and social stigmas disabled people often face. This blog post will review an article “Ghana Boosts ICT for Disabled” on biztechafrica.com website and talk about the promises ICTs hold for inclusive education.

Ghana to train 5000 PWD by 2013

In this article, the writer reports the approval by the Government of Ghana to train 5000 persons with Disability (PWDs) in employable skills in ICT. The program, a partnership between the Ministry of Education and rRL Communication Limited, will be an example of public-private co-operation. It will aim to empower PWD with sustainable employable skills such as mobile phones and computer assembling and repairs.

One of the overseers of the project, Deputy Minister of Information, Samual Okudzeto Ablakwa said that such a training program was critically important for the PWDs. He explained a lot of the traditional work PWDs relied on – basket and mat-weaving – had been taken over by technologies which left these marginalized people in an even more precarious position.

The report also stated that the government aimed to draw the 5000 PWDs from all parts of Ghana. The main focus is on educating them in employable skills using the benefits of ICTs a company like rRL Communication can provide.

Ghana and ICTs for PWD under UNESCO Mandate
The African nation has recently started several hi-profile projects aiming to enable PWDs using ICTs. These projects also organize a non-formal education program in sign language and digital communication for the hearing impaired, and provide ICT centers for them. This program comes in the wake of the country’s Vice President John Dramani Mahama’s initiative to support persons with disabilities with ICTs skills to support themselves.

These projects fit in nicely and are in large part an effect of UNESCO`s shared vision on ICTs.  All these aim to promote equal access to education and inclusion of the most vulnerable segments of society by means of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The program had some truly laudable successes, like Princess’ IT Project in Thailand, and forged partnerships with corporate giants such as Microsoft. These developments are sure to help the project grow and possibly affect some real changes for the extremely marginalized in societies of the Global South.

Inclusive eduction for children irrespective of race and abilities need to be ensured

Inclusive ICTs education and public-private partnership

ICTs education for PWDs or people with special needs basically aims at equipping the learners with skills to support their own lives. This can be seen as building capacities or extending capabilities in people who are not able to explore different avenues that are open to most other. Through ICTs education people with special needs become capable by themselves.

The girl named Toyeeba Soumair (Princess’ IT Project in Thailand) from Thailand had a very difficult time going to schools because she did not have her legs and arms. But now by using computers she has access to knowledge and can educate herself independently. ICTs give many others like Toyeeba power to choose and the power to be independent learners. For instance, digital communication allows mute people to communicate with others and facilitate their participation in society. ICTs therefore give access to resources and avenues to people with special needs that they did not have earlier.

Another important aspect of the projects discussed above is that they are not supported by the national governments but also international organizations like UNESCO. The public private partnership and the national and international collaboration imply that the future of inclusive education lies with ICTs.

The ICT industry (as Naoko’s entry shows) has also taken a note of participating in the field of inclusive education! The market for ICTs for inclusive education however is not as small as many think. There are 650 million people in the world who have special needs and 80% of these people live in the developing world. I will not be surprised if the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) leads the ICTs industry catering to inclusive education.

I know I am very optimistic this week. This is because I really find the ICTs initiatives around people with special needs extremely useful and promising. However I still find it problematic that people with special needs are called PWDs only because they function in a different way than most other people. Disability means lack of ability, to identify people with special needs as lacking something is clearly derogatory. I believe ICTs has the potential to enable people with special needs to the extent that they will not be marginalized as PWDs anymore. We are not far from a time when people with special needs will be functioning as most people. Am I daydreaming? I think I am not!

I would like to end with two of my favorite quotes:

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” – Helen Keller

“From each according to his/her ability; to each, according to his/her need”- Karl Marx

Sources:

Ghana Boosts ICT for Disabled. In BIZTECH AFRICA on Oct. 31, 2011: http://goo.gl/atx5G
Ghana to train Disabled in ICT. In Balancing Act: Telecoms, Internet and Broadcast in Africa on March 2, 2012: http://goo.gl/GxeES
Ministry of Education to provide ICT centres for people with disabilities in Modern Ghana on 14 June, 2009: http://goo.gl/IyMln
ICTs Education for People with Disabilities. In UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education: http://goo.gl/5rXjl
‘IT for Disabled’ in Thai schools. In ICTs, Education and Entrepreneurship on Feb. 11, 2010 http://goo.gl/F7DDt
UNESCO launches a meeting report on accessible ICTs for students with disabilities. In ICT in Education, UNESCO, Bangkok: http://goo.gl/ckbdg
Disabilities: What is it? In youthink! http://goo.gl/Tctem

How ICTs can be accessible for us all?

By Naoko Asano Enomoto

 

Nowadays, touch screen technology has been rapidly applied into tablets and smartphones.  Steve Jobs took pride in his beautiful screen of the iPhone. However, this fine looking and mirror surface like screen can be a barrier for those who are visually impaired. This time, we, ICTs for BOP bloggers are exploring the efforts to connect people to people regardless of people’s condition, say for example if your friend is not fully-sighted.

Brailletouch: the eye-free way of messaging

BBC reports that a new application helps visually impaired people to send text using touchscreen mobile device, regardless of whether the operating system of your phone is iOS or Android. Although even now eye-free technology such as apple’s Voiceover, which help people to access iOS devices based on spoken guidance, has already been in use, but experts says it is “too slow to be used effectively”.

The new technology is called “Brailletouch” because it is based on the Braille writing system. Brailletouch adapts a system that is controlled with six fingers and, most importantly, users do not need to move hands while they are texting. The inventor says “it’s not like the Qwerty keyboard where you move up and down. That’s why this thing works– we can get away with only six keys”

You can see how “Brailletouch” works from here.

Mr. Romero, one of the members of the Georgia Tech, points out that there is a growing concern among the visually impaired community that the recent market preference for touchscreen makes them “truly blind”. Now a lot of touch screen devices surround us such as copying machines to machines at the gym that use touch screens for settings and controls. Therefore, Mr. Romero wants to ensure this “eye-free kit” becomes widespread. He explains “Brailletouch” can also be useful for fully sighted people who want to text with being free from focusing on screen while they’re typing they can be looking at something else.

What is needed for “ICTs for all”?

What I appreciate in BBC’s article is that Mr. Romero considers Brailletouch not only for the blind but also for everyone. Because if the application or software only targets  for the people with disabilities or special needs, we  may marginalize them as “disabled” from a deficit perspective. For example, if the number of users for these software, applications and hardware are limited, the product will likely be high cost, which may limit the accessibility. Moreover, the frequency of software updates may suffer from the small market, compared with products for the majority—that is, the benefit from technological advancement would be limited to some extent by lower demand. In addition, as we can see in One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) case, inventing products based on non-profit models may face the issue of sustainability, because compared with for-profit products, developing not-for-profit products are more likely to face financial problems, and may force the developers to hard work with low payment. Therefore, the idea from Mr. Romero and the Georgia Tech is crucial as it tries go to beyond the boundaries of rigid categories like full-sighted or visually impaired.  Of course it is true that different people have different needs, so it is almost impossible to invent applications or software that works for everyone. However, this does not necessarily mean that working for universal access for ICTs is meaningless.

And, more importantly, affecting change in ICTs development should not be coming from top-down or one-sided groups. It is not clear whether or not the team of the Georgia Tech includes visually impaired members or consultants, but I believe that to make ICTs be more inclusive, reflecting with multiple voices of various stakeholders is essential. While I was writing this article, I came across one effort for this.  Let me share that story in closing..

Collaborative approach to make new technology more inclusive and responding

The research group of Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST) under the University of Tokyo developed a screen reader, which can read Devanagari (Nepali language). This is based on the existing screen reader, which was developed by Professor Paul Blenkhorn of University of Manchester. The Nepali language reader named “Thunder” was developed in collaboration with Nepal Association for the Welfare of the Blind (NAWB) and over 70 people from NAWB, including visually impaired people participated in the development process. Moreover, considering the high illiteracy rate among the poor in Nepal, Thunder can expand access to information for those people.  Of course, Thunder may face the problem of funding and how to deal with frequent Windows updates (Thunder is Windows dependent application). I am not sure I can call the process as “participatory” but people and NAWB and RCAST have tackled issues together to make their Thunder more inclusive and responsive.

Dear readers– Due to the limitation of space, my argument here has to be cut a little bit short. If you are interested in learning more about ICTs for disabilities, the links may be useful.

Sources

World Bank’s targeted ICT interventions were limited: evaluator in THE HINDU on Aug.11, 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2347766.ece

App helps blind to send text messages in BBC on Feb.20, 2012 http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-17105225

The first step to Himalaya: Thunder, Devanagari Screen reader was developed in the collaboration with Nepali Blinds (in Japanese) in RCAST report, Home page of RCAST http://www.rcast.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ja/rcast/report/2010/0802.html

 

 

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