Firm empowers visually impaired with digital skills
Evelyn Makena @evemake_g
Edwin Mulama was eight years old when his sight began deteriorating. At first, he found it difficult to read small print in Kilimani Primary School where he was enrolled for his primary education.
Then when he could not read even the big print and spectacles he was given at Kikuyu eye hospital did not improve his eyesight, he was enrolled at Thika Primary School for the Blind with low vision.
Progressively, his sight declined rendering him completely blind in 2015.
“From the moment my eyesight began declining, I knew I had to learn how to adjust and be independent,” he says.
The 21-year-old, who hails from Kibera, completed his studies at Thika High School for the Blind last year and has learnt numerous skills to help him navigate his daily life without depending on anybody.
“I can cook, do laundry, read and write and even play the piano,” he says.
In an era where most activities are based on technology, the digital skills he acquired while in school have made his life easier.
The skills he learnt with the support of inABLE, a charity organisation for the visually impaired have made it possible for him to operate a smartphone with ease, hail a digital taxi, transact digitally and navigate around the city by himself with the help of online maps.
Thesy have also set him on a path to achieving his dream of being a music producer.
“With understanding on how computer works, I am able to play the keyboard and offer vocal training for a band I formed last year.
I use different software to programme beats on the computer then connect to the keyboard,” he says.
For the past 10 years, InAble has been supporting blind students learn basic computer skills by offering technical and infrastructural support to special schools.
“Imparting computer skills give blind students better chances of advancing education and landing employment opportunities.
The training also helps them plug into technology that runs our lives,” says Catherine Wamwangi, Country Representative, InABLE.
The organisation, based in Kenya and US, trains assistive technology instructors to offer digital skills training to the visually impaired.
So far, ithas hired and trained 15 instructors and set up eight assistive technology labs in six schools for the blind in Kenya.
Shirleen Bwamula, an intern at the organisation says the skills she has learnt have enabled her become independent.
The 21-year-old woman living with albinism got the opportunity to learn computer skills from InABLE while studying at St. Lucy’s School for the blind in 2014.
Through the training she is currently able to design websites and operate a computer using a screen reader.
With these skills, Shirleen who will be joining Co-operative University next year to pursue a degree in Business Management, believes she will be able to navigate the learning system with more ease.
The inspiration to impart visually impaired students with computer skills was born out of the desire to bridge a crucial learning gap.
While donating books in a library in Thika in 2008, Irene Mbari Kirika, founder InABLE discovered the desperate need for Braille books and resources for visually impaired students.
Due to the high costs, one braille book had to be shared among many students and carrying them to class was cumbersome due to their bulky nature.
To bridge the gap the organisation founded 10 years ago has been partnering with schools to empower students with digital skills with an aim of giving equal access to employment and learning opportunities like the non-disabled counterparts.
“Most of the visually impaired come from poor backgrounds. We knew if no one filled the gap, it would put the children in a perpetual cycle of poverty.
We train teachers and use regular teaching devices such as laptops, phones and tablets and we have special reading devices to give students the instructions,” says Catherine.
Since 2008, the organisation has offered 35,000 hours of assistive technology computer skills training, enrolled 8000 blind and visually impaired students and 150 teachers.
The organisation is also working closely with the government through the Ministry of Education and Kenya Institute of Special Education for implementation of programs and policies that take into account learners with visual disabilities.