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Irene Mbari-Kirika

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02/01/2010

Making a Difference for the Blind with Technology!


Irene Mbari-Kirika, Founder & Executive Director of Our Reading Spaces Foundation, reports on the successful Computer Lab program she helped establish in July 2009 at the Thika Primary School for the Blind in Kenya, the first and oldest school for the blind in Africa.

I met the students at Thika Primary School for the Blind in January 2008 during a library trip in Thika, Kenya. I was amazed at how brilliant they were despite their disability. The students participated in different reading activities alongside the sighted students and the visually impaired students took home most of the awards.

Thika Primary School for the Blind is the first and oldest school for the blind in Africa, founded in 1946 as a hospital for disabled World War II veterans. It has a total of 278 students and 34 teachers (14 teachers are totally blind). The school has the most diverse population of students from blind institutions: HIV/Aids, Autistic, Albino, hearing impaired, and developmental disabilities.

Later, I came to learn that Braille books for the blind students are a luxury and four to five students are forced to share books.  A math book is five times more expensive for a blind student as compared to a sighted student. I had my personal experience when I visited the school this past November. I saw students in a class sitting in groups during a class session... It's difficult to understand why this is going on TODAY even with the presence of technology.

In my search for a solution, I came to terms with the fact that Braille books are bulky and very expensive worldwide but technology can make a big difference for a disabled student.  In July 2009, we opened our computer lab at Thika Primary School for the Blind with 15 computers. The computer was a foreign gadget to the students and teachers, but today they can freely email and browse the web.

Christine Kiyathi a 47 year old blind teacher at the school emailed and I quote,                                                                        

"A dream has finally come true, I can now read a paper of my choice comfortably without being a bother to someone thanks to Our Reading Space".   

On November 12, 2009, we honored 39 students and 20 teachers enrolled in our program and we were able to expand our computer lab at the primary school. This occurred as a result of the generosity of individuals and corporations such as Coca-Cola Nairobi Bottlers.  An additional 15 computers were purchased from donations, doubling the size of the computer lab.  This will allow Our Reading Spaces to accommodate more students on the program.

OUR IMPACT:

  • The students and teachers are able to use MS Office software with emphasis on Word and Excel. This will help the school save on cost since Braille paper is a luxury.
  • Limitless resources are available online for the students and teachers. Courtesy of Bookshare, the students and teachers have access to more than 9,000 books available online. At the same time Thika School for the Blind does not own a single dictionary, so now the students and the teachers use www.dictionary.com

 

For more information, sponsorship or funding opportunities for the project "Expansion of the Computer Lab at the Thika Primary School for the Blind," please visit Our Reading Spaces Foundation website at www.ourreadingspaces.org 

Watch the video: Heroes: Thika School of the visually impaired, NTVKenya, August 2009 (source: YouTube) 

Contact: Irene Mbari-Kirika, Founder & Executive Director, Our Reading Spaces Foundation
e-mail: irene@ourreadingspaces.org - phone: 404-542-1463 

 

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Related Items:

• How Accessibility is Redefining Personalization

• Report from Uganda: East African Regulators Take a Strong Stance in Support of ICT Accessibility Policies and Programs


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