Saturday, August 18, 2007

Computer course is adapted to meet the needs of the visually impaired

The Helen Keller Institute For The Deaf And Deaf-blind (HKIDB) will soon come up with a full-fledged 3-semester course in computers by early November.

“Until now, communication skills were taught the old-fashioned way using books or charts in Braille. Today, computers have become an important part of the educational process at the institute,” explains Beroz Vacha, founder and director, HKIDB.

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Vacha and along with the institute’s dedicated team of teachers will now open doors to students across the continent. “Dually-impaired students from across the country and also from elsewhere in Asia are welcome for the course,” said Ram Agarwal, technical advisor, HKIDB.

An integral function of the Helen Keller Institute is the Computerised Mini Braille Press. Set up in January 2002, it is a pioneering project which teaches the specially-challenged children to use computers and undertake computer-related programming and designing.

This computer training unit-cum-mini Braille press produces a variety of materials to suit the needs of deaf-blind, blind, low vision and hearing-impaired individuals.

With its current capacity of 10 monitors, the course will start on a ‘one-to-one’ teaching basis. Students aged 14 onwards, having a basic knowledge of typewriting—taught at the Helen Keller Institute at Mahape—will be trained in this system.

“They will be taught to work on normal keyboards. They can feel whatever appears on the screen on a ‘focus Braille’ attached to the monitor and errors can be corrected through Braille,” said Agarwal.

The course syllabus will have communication skills, office applications, and internet surfing. Those graduating from the course will be encouraged to coach other students as there is a serious dearth of teachers in India. They will also be equipped to set up private Braille transcription centres.
The experiment was a success with two students—Pradeep Sinha(29) and Zamir Bhale (32)—passing their SSC exams through National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) in 2003. Today Zamir, working with an NGO, is an advocacy officer of deaf-blind and earns a handsome Rs 12,000 per month whereas Pradeep is assisting his teachers take classes for other special students.

“We are looking for accreditation from the Rehabilitation Council of India as they have recognised MSCIT (Master of Science in Computer Information Technology) course for the blind alone,” added Agarwal.

According to the official figures there are 4,50,000 dual-sensory impaired students, and students having associated disabilities in India and only 37 organisations in 19 states to teach basic communication skills.

The idea is to break the barriers of communication.However another barrier that they will have to overcome is the lack of funds from the government. “If education has been made compulsory under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for normal students, why not for the deaf-blind?” asked Agarwal.

Blind-user friendly materials like maps given out by several government-recognised Non-government Organisations (NGOs) actually do not serve the purpose. “There is no uneven surface for rivers in the map, only mountains are highlighted also the Indian boarder is in plain black ink and the whole thing costs the institute Rs 2500. Even the medicines do not have a brailled name, price and expiry date,” said Vacha.

On Saturday the union minister for social justice and empowerment Meira Kumar visited the institute and promised to provide them with the necessary basic facilities.


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