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