Friday, 9 April 2010

Screen Saviour

About this time last year my world was shattered... Or should I say my laptop screen was shattered. Here in rural Nigeria, as a VSO, it amounts to the same thing. Our laptops are not only tools for work, but provide entertainment in the form of music or films in the dark, NEPA-less nights, and allow us to access the outside world when we’re lucky enough to have an internet connection.

However today I discovered that a laptop with a broken screen is incredibly valuable... to a blind person.

In its ojective to make its computer training classes accessible to the blind and visually impaired, Fantsuam Academy is working with two inspirational students studying Special Education at the University of Jos, Femi and Obeya. With support from VSO, which encourages all its partners to “mainstream” disability, and Freedom Scientific, publishers of the market-leading screen-reading application ‘JAWS’ (Job Access With Speech) the Fantsuam Academy will be offering subsidised JAWS training courses from June 2010. Sight impaired graduates of the JAWS course will then be able to then join Fantsuam’s regular computer Certificate and Diploma classes.

In the Fantsuam compound with University of Jos students Femi and Obeya

I first met Obeya when Jonathan invited me to the Old Students Association programme at his former school, Gindiri School for the Blind.

Jonathan (left) and Obeya (right) with other former Gindiri students.

Obeya is partially sighted and before securing his place on the Diploma programme at the University worked for an NGO for the disabled in his home state of Benue (home of the world’s best mangoes, but that’s another story). I told him about Fantsuam’s GAIYA volunteer programme which he then made time to attend when he was passing through Kaf and we kept in touch.

When in Jos last year I visited Obeya at the University where he introduced me to Femi, and Femi introduced me to JAWS. And that was really the start of it. This week Femi and Obeya visited Kafanchan to demonstrate JAWS to Fantsuam’s instructors, my blind friend Jonathan from Kagoro, and Steven, a blind microfinance client who works at the local Kafanchan rehabilitation centre.

Femi and Obeya with a group of Fantsuam’s instructors, Fantsuam intern and my blind friend Jonathan

But let’s get back to the screen: the screen on Femi’s computer is blank. Black, broken, caput. But that doesn’t make any difference to Femi. He only needs to listen to his computer and have a working keyboard.

The class sees the screen projected onto the wall behind Femi. His own laptop screen is blank.

Obeya doesn’t have his own computer at all although he’s desperately trying to raise the N25,000 (about £100-£120) to buy a ‘fairly used’ computer for himself.

There are another 50 visually impaired students at the University of Jos, most of which are enrolled in its Special Education course which is a leader in the country. However there is NOT ONE computer in the University’s computer or CISCO labs that has screen reader software installed on it. Femi is the ONLY visually impaired student that has his own computer.

Anyone who has blind friends or worked with the blind knows that the impact on daily life can be pretty minimal when equipped with the aids now widely available in the West. Indeed even without those aids, normal life resumes as I discovered on my visit to Gindiri School for the Blind in Plateau State.

Hostel life for Gindiri students is exactly the same as for their sighted counterparts around the country

But those aids are expensive and out of the reach of virtually every visually impaired Nigerian. Obeya has spent years trying to afford an old Braille machine to help him write and make notes despite both a Braille machine and a tape recorder being a requirement for all visually impaired students at the University.

Now please consider: how many of you out there have ever seen a computer discarded or yourself written-off a laptop because the screen is broken in some way? I myself know that replacing my own screen cost almost a third of the price of the basic computer.

So – before you write off – or see someone writing off a computer because its screen is broken – think twice. And if you can’t get the old computer out to Nigeria, please ensure that it gets to someone blind near you who perhaps can’t afford one of their own.

As for me – I’m learning JAWS. Next time my screen goes – I won’t need it either!

Pictures: Jonathan and Steven get a private lesson in JAWS from Femi and Obeya; Femi and Obeya pose with Fantsuam Academy instructors.

Femi and Obeya’s visit coincided with that of leading This Day journalist Reuben Buhari who travelled down from Kaduna to find out more about Fantsuam Foundation.

(Left) Reuben's (right) surprise at seeing and hearing a screen reading application for a first time; (Right) Reuben takes time to interview Steven, one of Fantsuam’s microfinance clients who hopes to benefit from the JAWS course in June.

AFTERWORD: The biggest cost of delivering the JAWS course will be the course notes in Braille. We would like to give the Materials Centre at Gindiri the opportunity to produce them however we would be pleased for any support - financial or in kind - that would enable us to produce these vital course notes for the students. All suggestions gratefully received!


Sabine & Markus said...

Hi Cicely,

great work again! We are glad you still seem to be happy and very much engaged. We wish you & Fantsuam Foundation all the very best with its new program for the visually impaired.

Take care!
Sabine & Markus

Pamela McLean said...

Donate online

Cicely - Remember Dadamac Foundation can help you to arrange online giving (like we did for your Christmas appeal).

Even now a donor can go to our front page at Bmycharity
and make a directed donation - by including a message to say what the donation should be used for.
Ideally you should set up a specific page where all donations are automatically collected up together. Then we can tweet about it and with luck some donations will come in.

This is more great work by Fanatsuam Foundation. Congratulations to all concerned.

Amela Jones said...

Is there any further reading you would recommend on this?

IT training Bedford