Africa to get their Visually Impaired People into Education
After a slow start the IDP fourth Africa Forum got underway. Social inclusion was the theme and it recurred again and again both in session and in private discussions. In his pre-conference address to delegates, William Roland President of the World Blind Union argued that “strengthening organizations of blind people is the prime objective of both AFUB and the WBU”. He continued “we have to become a unified worldwide movement of activists changing what it means to be blind”.
At its worst, countries such as Ethiopia, who have 1.5m blind people with as few as 300 in formal education, lack any kind of infrastructure to support its blind population. Education is currently provided by a couple of small Catholic schools. Ethiopian representatives at the Africa Forum were desperate to get its country on the bandwagon towards a more inclusive society.
Wandemu Tsegaye said “unemployment in Ethiopia is already very high, up to 60% in Addis, but blind people are even more marginalised. There is a lack of awareness and they desperately need access to skills and training, as well as computers and software”. Wandemu continued “currently training for blind people is in the low skills areas such as broom making and poultry rearing – we want to get our people trained in technology so they can participate in the world of work and education”.
In hotspots like Kenya, where work has already commenced, organizations such as Kenyan Union of the Blind and Africa Braille Council, both supported by Sightsavers International, have begun to embark on ambitious programmes of inclusivity in schools. Sightsavers International, together with Dolphin Computer Access, launched the Sightsavers Dolphin Pen, a combined software screen reader and magnifier.
Robin Spinks of Sightsavers, delighted with the partnership with Dolphin said “this is a massive step towards inclusivity in African schools”. He continued “Dolphin has done a lot of work to give us what we need – this software, a combined screen reading and magnification solution, which only Dolphin has the technology to supply, is further enhanced as it comes on a USB pen. This will enable students and workers to move around with their software to places such as schools, work, libraries and internet cafes. If this wasn’t enough, Dolphin has agreed fantastic terms, making it possible for Sightsavers International and other agencies to deliver a far reaching programme through out Africa”.
Dolphin and Sightsavers International have agreed distribution terms with South African National Council of the Blind. SANCB, led by Jill Wagner was delighted with the arrangement.
“Now we have a more affordable and hence accessible screen reading alternative for the visually impaired computer user in Africa. We, the South African National Council for the Blind fully support this fabulous initiative made possible by a partnership between Dolphin, Sightsavers and the RNIB. We are extremely excited and will be shortly hosting the second training workshop for a number of trainers from South Africa and Africa to ensure that the future users of the Sightsavers Dolphin Pen will be adequately supported."
"With the launch of the Sightsavers Dolphin Pen, many Visually Impaired persons who previously could not afford to access information electronically using computers, now have a better chance of becoming a full participant in the information and technology age. We also believe that the introduction of this low cost alternative at long last begins to promote the notion of choice for the Visually Impaired computer user who has hitherto been limited in their choices in relation to screen reading alternatives partly due to affordability and price and partly due to limitations in the products available through local distribution channels particularly in Africa.”
"Thanks to the Dolphin team and all of the vital players who made this possible, we look forward to a rapidly expanding Sightsavers Dolphin Pen user group in Africa in the near future and new ideas which allow for product alternatives at affordable prices to enable computer users in the developing economies."
Noel Duffy, Dolphin's Managing Director, described the week as one of the most exciting of his years in business. He said "the partnerships we have established will support the aims of the WBU and AFUB". He continued "they will provide hope and educational opportunity to millions of blind people through out Africa. The recurring theme of social inclusion, underpinned by educational inclusion, needs large scale resources; financial, personnel and technical. This will only come about through partnerships between Government organizations, non Government organizations and the corporate sector through companies such as Dolphin."