Device to change learning for the visually impaired

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Suparna Biswas, Executive Director, KBTA and Kivuva Bernard, Headmaster Kangundo Primary School demonstrate how to use the Orbit Reader to Kilimani Primary School students Pauline Nyachema and Ashley Muthoni. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Lighter, digital and relatively cheaper,  the Orbit Reader is pegged to promote access to education for persons with visual challenges impaired learners

Harriet James @harriet86jim

Majority of children living with disabilities in Africa are excluded from schools and opportunities for work.

Of the over 600 million persons living with disabilities, 80 million are in Africa, accounting for 40 per cent of the continent’s population, including 10-15 per cent of school-age children. 

Unfortunately, this population experiences social stigma, leading to their marginalisation and isolation.

For persons with disabilities to have the same access to education as others, it is necessary for them to have access to and use technology. 

Against this background, charitable trust, Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa (KBTA), is working with children with visual impairment in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Rwanda.

Their aim is to give them access to digital braille devices and learning materials to promote literacy and quality education in an integrated school setting. 

“Our ambitious goal is to provide every blind child in school with an Orbit Reader, thus shifting how learners with visual impairment access quality education.

For us to succeed, we continue to seek the support of Kenyans at all levels to donate to this cause,” says  Suparna Biswas, Executive Director, KBTA.

They recently launched ‘Orbit Reader 20’ , which they hope will give a chance for the visually impaired pupils to continue with their education.

The technology is a paperless and portable device through which students with visual impairment would be able to access the entire study syllabus and Curriculum Based Competency content just like their sighted peers.

Refreshable display

“Unlike the traditional 6.5 kg braille machine used in most schools, the Orbit Reader 20 is a digitally portable device, which will ease challenges the visually impaired learners face with the costly braille equipment,” says Suparn 

Invented and developed in the US, the Orbit Reader was supported in the first three  years by big organisations for the blind in countries such as USA, Canada, UK, Sweden among others.

The reader was then launched in November 2018 during KBTAs 10th anniversary. 

A year later, Ministry of Education requested the organisation to support access to Grade Three learners with the Curriculum Based Content (CBC). KBTA distributed 250 Orbit Readers along with training of teachers and technicians in 27 schools across 27 counties in the country. 

This year, KBTA has distributed 210 Orbit Readers across 34 schools and one in each Technical Teachers Training College in 35 counties across Kenya.

The latest beneficiaries are drawn from schools in Nairobi, Meru, Kiambu, Mombasa, Kwale, Kitui, Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kisii, Kisumu, Siaya, Bomet, West Pokot, Turkana, Machakos, Kakamega, Wajir, Garissa, Kericho, Isiolo, Narok, Mandera, Kajiado, Nakuru and Homabay.

“We will continue to work with such organisations like KBTA to promote equal access and fairness to education for the blind and visually impaired learners,” said the Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mumina Bonaya.

The Orbit Reader uses mobile technology, making it easier to access spare parts.

It also has a number of applications that allows the teacher, learner, parents and other non-braille users to teach and communicate between the blind, deaf-blind and sighted individuals. 

It also comes with refreshable display of 20 braille cells with pins that represent any six- or eight-dot braille code, for instance, it has braille keys and reads the contents of files on an SD card and has note taking capability. 

Donation spree

It also connects to computers and portable devices via USB or Bluetooth for use with a screen reader and a talking graphic scientific calculator to provide an option for science subjects.

Furthermore, it uses rechargeable batteries (user replaceable) that lasts for at least 40 hours/charge.

Its refreshable electronic braille feature eliminates the need for paper and helps in reducing the cost of producing braille material on paper.

It is affordable with a retail price of Sh65,000, unlike the classic Braille machine, which costs Sh100,000 and is cumbersome to use as they require rims of papers and expensive bulky textbooks.

While this may still prove to be expensive for families with disabled children, KBTA has plans to ensure they too are not left out. 

“We are pushing for Kenyans and people from the international community to donate for us to realise this objective.

We are working closely in partnership with Government and its agencies responsible for educating learners with visual impairment for the purpose of long term sustainability,” she says 

So far, the device has proven secure for exam purposes ensuring fairness and inclusion for visually impaired learners.

With this device the visually impaired learners have the same access to education and choice of careers in their adult lives. 

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