Braille Without Borders Is in DangerBraille Without Borders, the renowned school for the blind, is in danger of being shut down. The institution was co-founded in May 1998 by German born Sabriye Tenberken and Dutch born Paul Kronenberg in Tibet to empower students who are blind or visually impaired. A Tibetan agency wishes to discontinue integration training that helps blind people assimilate into society. No explanation has been given as to why.

Braille Without Borders is so named because its founders are determined to defy the odds. They hope to inspire blind and visually impaired children to overcome negative perceptions in society that prevent them from playing an active and inclusive role. To bring this to fruition, students are given a holistic education that encompasses academic and life skills.

The preparatory school that is in danger of closing teaches students how to read and write the Tibetan, Chinese and English Braille scripts. Students are also trained in different vocations such as animal husbandry, agriculture, market gardening, composting and working in the cheese industry. Through educating children holistically, the program ensures students can take control over their lives upon exiting.

Tenberken created Braille Without Borders out of frustration. She lost her sight at the age of 12 and decided at a young age, with support from her family, not to let society tell her what she is capable of. In a 2010 interview with Deutsche Welle, she stated that it angers her that impaired people are not taken seriously because others focus too much on the disability the person has.

Furthermore, prior to the program beginning, Tibetan blind children were social outcasts. People thought they were stupid or possessed by demons, and parents didn’t want to touch their own children. Tibetan citizens believed blindness was a curse from God because of an evil committed.

The success of the program has changed how the blind are perceived. Tenberken stated in the same interview that people stand up for the visually impaired now, as Braille Without Borders has been very successful in reducing the stigma against blind people and providing them with an education. No longer is it okay to call them blind fools. They are confident young people who contribute to society.

So far, the program has impacted the lives of 300 children ages six to 15. However, there is far more work to be accomplished. Statistics state 30,000 of the 2.5 million inhabitants of the Tibet Autonomous Region are blind or highly visually impaired. Compared to most areas in the world, this is above average. Climate and hygienic factors such as dust, wind, high ultra-violet light radiation, soot in houses caused by heating with coal and/or yak dung, and lack of vitamin A and D at an early age, contribute to the unusually high number of blind and visually impaired people in this region. A rehabilitation program for the blind and visually impaired is necessary to improve quality of life.

Braille Without Borders is in danger of closing if supporters do not act now. It has endured over the past 19 years due to donations and encouragement from people outside of Tibet. If the school is closed, Tenberken is gravely worried students will be sent to schools where they won’t receive training to become self-sufficient. Supporters can continue to aid the program’s efforts through donations. Learn more ways to help on the official website of Braille Without Borders.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr

Visually Impaired Students in KenyaNew assistive learning technology will assist 365 blind and visually impaired students at the St. Oda Primary and Secondary School for the Blind in Siaya County, Kenya.

The new technology comes from Computer Labs for the Blind, an initiative created by InAble, Access Kenya and the Rockefeller Foundation. The program works to train blind and visually impaired students and their teachers in basic computer skills, according to It News Africa. The skills taught include Internet access and online education content.

The initiative is targeting almost 1,700 students countrywide. So far four of 11 schools for blind and visually impaired students in Kenya have adopted the technology, according to Voice of America.

The technology costs around $1,000 dollars to install, but InAble is providing it to schools at no cost.

According to InAble, Access Kenya and the Rockefeller Foundation, students developing these skills will be more employable. The education of the blind and visually impaired has faced many challenges. For example, traditionally blind and visually impaired students in Kenya who make it to high school are excluded from sciences because the Kenyan educational system does not recognize them as a viable part of the curriculum.

Executive Director of InAble Kenya, Irene Mbari Kirika, said, “The scarcity of facilities and human capital for the blind and visually impaired have for a long time meant that they cannot compete equally with their sighted peers. They either find it difficult to start an education or complete the same under challenging conditions that make it impossible to build a foundation for self-reliance and contribution to the community, pushing them into begging and other forms of activities for their survival.”

This new assistive technology is a step towards helping overcome the previous obstacles blind and visually impaired students have faced in the past.

A visually impaired student named Luca Mwanzia, age 17, says the technology has opened up new frontiers.

Mwanzia says, “Braille books are quite expensive and you have to use quite a sum to purchase one. But now since we have computers we get the books at virtually no cost. So we download the various books to read and when we are done we just close the program.”

Access Kenya is investing six million Kenyan shillings towards InAble’s project, Assistive Technology Labs. This money will bring online technology to six public and primary schools that cater to the blind and the visually impaired, all within the next 12 months.

Jordan Connell

Sources: It News Africa, Voice of America
Photo: IT News Africa

Visually Impaired Kenyan Students and Education - TBP
The initiative “Computer Labs for the Blind” aims to bring assistive learning technologies to 356 blind and visually impaired Kenyan students at the St. Oda Primary and Secondary School for the Blind in Gem District, Siaya County, Kenya.

This technology will be provided by partnerships between the organizations InAble, AccessKenya and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The program will not only train blind and visually impaired students, but also their teachers. The students will learn basic computer skills and how to access the Internet, and will also complete an online education program.

The goal of the organizations involved is to help these students develop skills that will make them employable, leading to a life that many visually impaired Kenyans could only have dreamed of in the past.

Over the years, the education of the blind and the visually impaired has faced many obstacles, including logistics, the availability of facilities and teaching resources. With these setbacks, the visually impaired have not been capable of participating in mainstream life.

Visually impaired students that reach the high school level are barred from participating in the sciences, such as chemistry and physics. Even if they were able to participate, most teachers are not properly trained in the appropriate methods for teaching blind and visually impaired people.

This leaves the students at a tremendous disadvantage.

“Braille textbooks happen to be bulky and expensive, requiring up to four or more students to share a single book, presenting a challenge in imparting knowledge to students,” said Irene Mbari Kirika, executive director of InAble Kenya. “For instance, whereas the costs of books required by a Form 4 student are KES 7,060, it would cost slightly over KES 61,000 [to get] braille [textbooks], which is way out of reach for very many Kenyans.”

However, it is not only the braille books that are more expensive: the notebook paper blind and visually students write on also costs more. Many schools are not equipped with the necessary funds for blind and visually impaired students, even though these students are expected to sit for the same tests and exams as other students.

AccessKenya Group will be investing KES 7.2 million over the next two years in the provision of technology resources and financial support. From the fund, KES 6 million will go towards the “Assistive Technology Labs” project, which will include broadband Internet.

Emily Kinuthia, Marketing Manager at AccessKenya, added, “We realize that there was a lot of focus on the provision of hardware but little emphasis on skilling both for the teachers and students. We are therefore making it easier to access the curriculum and other resources, such as digital books and applications, all of which will be available online in order to deliver value in technology studies.”

With these set goals, blind and visually impaired students in Kenya will be schooled in useful, everyday skills. And with these skills, these students will have the opportunity to enter the job market, something that many blind and visually impaired individuals have previously never thought possible.

– Kerri Szulak

Sources: IT News Africa, All Africa
Photo: Inable