ICTs for Visually Impaired in Ethiopia
The opportunities offered by ICTs for blind people will be presented at a Press Conference today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The event is organized by UNESCO and the Adaptive Technology Center for the Blind (ATCB) as part of their joint initiative "ICT training for capacity building, empowerment and poverty reduction among the blind community in Ethiopia".
"The Press Conference is for us an important event to confirm the strong interest of UNESCO in promoting such initiatives and to strengthen the partnership with ATCB, pioneer in Ethiopia, and a model institution for persons with visual impairments in the rest of Africa", says UNESCO's Günter Cyranek.
The International Eye Foundation (IEF) reports that there are currently about 45 million blind people in the world, the vast majority living in Africa. In Ethiopia according to the latest census taken there are well over five hundred thousand totally blind people.
ICTs offer individuals the ability to compensate for physical or functional limitations, to access knowledge by adapting digital media to the nature of their disabilities, and to enhance their social and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them.
As a pioneer in Ethiopia, ATCB was established in June 2000 in order to introduce and facilitate information accessibility to blind and visually impaired people in Ethiopia. Since its founding, it has actively been engaged in ICT training with adaptive technology for the blind and computerized Braille printing projects.
Despite limited resources, the Center has thus far accomplished a number of important activities that have brought practical benefits to the project communities, besides contributing to the shaping of favorable public attitudes and awareness creation about blindness in general.
UNESCO launched in 2003 its first project in Ethiopia establishing a partnership arrangement with ATCB and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for training blind and visually impaired students, government employees and professionals to use computers equipped with adaptive devices.
The project objectives included the establishment of a computer training centre to assist accessibility of ICT to blind users in the society, training of blind and visually impaired people to operate computers with adoptive equipment and, furthermore, creation of public awareness that blind people can utilize their potentials for their use and the society using adaptive technology.
ATCB has been chosen by UNESCO not only as an institution with a vision for blind and visually impaired in Ethiopia, but also as a model for blind-focused initiatives in Africa.
A new UNESCO/ATCB training programme aimed at the creation of employment opportunities for people with visual disabilities who have acquired basic computer skills with adaptive technology will shortly be launched. Its main objectives are to establish an employment oriented training centre in ICTs for visually impaired persons, to develop a training curriculum and to train at least 50 persons so as to equip them with employable skills, thus enabling them to participate effectively in the process of sustainable development in Ethiopia. The programme also includes awareness raising activities aimed at overcoming current stereotype and discrimination relating to persons with disabilities.
The new programme is a practical and tangible contribution of UNESCO and ATCB to the major framework "African Decade of Disabled Persons (2000-2009)", that was formally declared in July 1999 by the African Union (AU).
It is also one of UNESCO's contributions to the implementation of the Action Plan of the World Summit on the Information Society which highlights the need for ensuring access to ICTs by disadvantaged groups.