Keeping up with ever changing computer technology can be a financial challenge, but also an educational opportunity that excites and engages our students and faculty. In a few short years, our inABLE computer-lab-for-the-blind students have gained experience using CRT monitors, Microsoft multipoint server 2011 and now NETBOOK computers. This necessary computer technology evolution has been made possible by generous contributions that include inABLE partners, individuals, corporations, civic organizations, and many other sources.
As first, replacing heavy Braille books that were in short supply inspired the idea and formation of inABLE’s computer-lab-for-the blind program. Removing barriers that limited learning first happened when computer learning extended educational resources beyond heavy-to-carry Braille books and continues today. Students at Thika Schools for the Blind appreciate the Netbooks, because they are compact, light to carry, and easily connected. They are now experiencing computer learning conveniences that many other blind and sighted students around the world enjoy.
Wireless WIFI availability that Access Kenya donates provides students with unplugged freedom. Our class six pupils and form two students now complete their studies on 'one laptop one student' with the support of Assistive Technology instructors.
inABLE computer-lab students have embraced the class marker technique where each and every student has the opportunity to log into a Netbook with their own credentials to take the exams and submit results to the government of Kenya, who accepts digital examination. These students are advancing as self-directed learners, which will help them become adaptable life-longer learners.
Watching these blind students quickly adapt to new technology and advance in their education is a notable achievement that aptly demonstrates that disability is NOT inability.
Nelson , a totally blind student in the inABLE Computer-Lab-for-the-Blind program, has all it takes to become a computer professional. He’s a very humble and quiet boy in class, but also very attentive and intelligent. He is always among the top students in his class.
Nelson has something in him that many may not see or imagine. One day as I taught some other students research skills, Nelson came in and requested to attend. I explained that the lesson was nearly complete. He asked to stay so that he might learn something about research in the time remaining. His eagerness to learn has no boundaries; neither time nor new learning topics deter his self-driven progress. Nelson learned about assistive technology through his own research on the Internet and can now quickly determine if a website is accessible to blind or visually impaired visitors or not.
Nelson showcased his computer skills by demonstrating how different web pages on particular websites sites are not accessible to the visually impaired and this really amazed and challenged the website programmers. You can imagine the surprised reaction when a student thoughtfully challenged experts in programming; he became an admired champion for improved Internet accessibility for the blind.
This advocacy and information exchange has given Nelson more passion to improve accessibility. It motivates him to learn more so that blind people like him can more easily access digital materials from the Internet, without having to depend on the sited individuals.
Nelson’s accessibility mission in Kenya is really a global issue. As confirmed on the website of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB): “Not every website, however, is optimally designed for use by web surfers with visual impairments. When a website is built without regard to proper web design, they become inaccessible by people with vision loss who use access technology.” The Web Access Initiative (WAI) has posted accessible website design guidelines.
When we started training teachers computer skills at the Thika High School for the Blind, John Mark had never used computers before. Because he was totally blind, he decided to start by mastering the keyboard keys. Typically, most students take three months to fully utilize the keyboard, including typing. Not John, he surprised everyone when he mastered the keyboard in 20 minutes.
This accomplishment was really amazing. The passion he had to learn the keys was inspirational. He joyfully called out: “Teacher just watch as I type a story for you.”
As an inABLE Computer Instructor every moment of computer discovery is cherished. However, when a student – particularly a teacher – has such an immediate connection and rapid learning curve the celebratory reaction is pure happiness. In a few short minutes, computer technology gave John a new avenue to communicate, learn, and share his knowledge.
John’s newest desire is to be as computer proficient as sighted teachers. To reach this goal, he is committed to never missing a lesson. To ensure he is never late, he arrives early. This focus will no doubt help him to increase his computer abilities.
As an instructor I feel rewarded by his enthusiasm and will continue to support his progress until he reaches his full potential. If the joy and smiles John emits are indicators, I better be ready to fly. The sky will be his only limitation!
Disability is NOT inability.