Serving persons with disabilities with ICT in China
14 years old Yang Xiaomei from China is one of those persons with disabilities whom UNESCO helps facilitating acces to information and knowledge through ICT.
Yang Xiaomei was born on the barren plains of Xinlingele, Inner Mongolia in China. Being almost blind, too "old" to receive a full-nine years of compulsory education and too poor to enroll in a vocational training meant not much prospects in life for this 14-year old. Yet now Xiaomei is a certified masseuse working in Beijing. This became possible after she distinguished herself by studying hard using Braille and then successfully graduating from the professional training course established by the Golden Key Research Center of Education for Visually Impaired, Beijing Disabled Persons Federation and UNESCO.
In 2005 UNESCO went further in meeting the aspirations of people with disabilities who are willing and able to compete at the high-end of the job market.
The Beijing Disabled Persons' Federation (BDPF) in partnership with UNESCO Office Beijing has developed and implemented a range of ICT-based courses and activities for adults and school children. The BDPF Activity Center conducted the cartoon-design and typesetting training for 71 physically challenged people. Being unemployed or laid-off for several years, most of these trainees had very limited computer skills prior to the training. The training helped them to find employment as multimedia graphic cartoon editors, cover and package designers, and professional typesetters in the public and private sectors.
Multimedia also provided trainees with new tools to further express their creativity. The shadow play is one of the most ancient traditional Chinese arts. Mr. Hou Yongsheng, artistic designer of the Beijing Shadow Play Troupe, used the multimedia skills which he acquired at the training, to draw and simulate the entire shadow play on his computer. Professional graphics software came once again to his rescue when he was designing the play's posters and flyers.
Children were in the focus of the parallel effort, which took place in the Special Education Center of Daxing District of the BDPF. Out of 55 students at the Center only 7 could access a computer. Once the LAN and Internet infrastructure were installed with the help of UNESCO, all 27 teachers at the Center were trained in network and computer skills as well as computer courseware production. Then school children and their teachers started constructing the "Me online, Me Studying, and Me Growing-up" portal. Through hands-on computer training and simulation exercises, mentally challenged students from 6 to 19 years old were encouraged to practice on-line information retrieval, communication and information exchanges with their teachers and students outside their school. To create this enabling environment, psychology experts advised teachers on design of the training curriculum and measures aimed at enhancing the self-esteem of the students.
According to Mr. Zhao Wenmin, Head of the Special Education Center, he can already see the positive impact of this pilot project. New computer skills and possibility to interact in the cyberworld have raised students' morale. It also enabled the teachers to produce educational material tailored to specific needs of their students. He plans to carry on this pilot by testing the possibilities of distance education aiming at students who are unable to enroll in his Center to receive basic education.
In China alone, around 60 million suffer from physical and mental impairment. In line with "access to cyberspace for people with disabilities" as well as with the principles set forth in the 2nd WSIS, UNESCO drew attention to its collaboration with the BDPF at China's 2nd Information Accessibility Forum in November 2005.
In another concerted effort, the BDPF organized an experience-sharing seminar in January 2006. 140 participants including students of the school and their parents, representatives from the China Disabled Persons' Federation, Ministry of Education, and China Central Education Science Institute came together to look at mainstreaming of people with disabilities from strategic and policy-making angles. Food for thoughts was also found in UNESCO's Draft Position Paper on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) which was translated to Chinese by the BDPF. There was a general consensus that the pilot project has demonstrated the potential of the ICT impact on the access to information and the promotion of equal employment opportunities for the peoples with disabilities.