Old laptops transform the lives of Africa's blind

Old laptops transform the lives of Africa's blind

Summary: USB sticks and donated laptops from UK businesses are allowing African students access to the previously closed world of higher education

TOPICS: Tech Industry

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  • Johnson Riungu is a student at Kenya's Kenyatta University on the outskirts of Nairobi and is totally blind. Until recently, many of the everyday tasks of student life were impossible without a student assistant. Just keeping up with the reading elements of the curriculum meant having to have the material read out by an assistant or classmates, who are not always available or willing to take time out from their own studies.

    However, thanks to a second-hand IBM ThinkPad, supplied by IT charity Computer Aid in co-operation with the UK's Department for International Development (DIFD) and Sightsavers International, Johnson and other students, such as Terry Twirimugambi, now have access to information previously only available in scarce and bulky Braille books.

    Photo credit: Glenn Edwards

  • Alongside the laptop, DIFD has also provided £70,000 of funding for USB memory sticks, the Dolphin Pen, pre-loaded with accessibility software. Not all blind students have access to laptops and normal computers are out of bounds to them unless they have someone available to change the accessibility options in Windows — not an easy task even for the sighted. But simply plugging in the Dolphin Pen launches software that includes a screen magnifier — to make small icons easier to read — and screen-reading software which renders text into speech.

    Also visually impaired, university lecturer Lubra Maziui (pictured between Johnson Riungu and Terry Twirimugambi) claims the Dolphin Pen has reduced her reliance on assistants. "It made a huge difference. I have used three other screen readers but the Dolphin Pen has been the best to use. It gave me a great deal of independence as I don't have to rely on a human reader. Although you can't eliminate the need for assistants completely, it's made my schedule much more flexible," she said.

    Martin Kieti, an executive officer of Kenya Union of the Blind, received one of the first two Dolphin Pens to arrive in the country. "Within two days of using it," he said, "I was totally amazed by the revolution it brought into my life. For the first time, I could sit and work on my computer or laptop while leaning on the back of my seat. Above all, I could use any computer, especially at internet cafes, plug in my Pen and use my settings, just like anyone else."

    Photo credit: Glenn Edwards

Topic: Tech Industry

Andrew Donoghue

About Andrew Donoghue

"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."

Hunter S. Thompson

Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journalist with over ten years on leading titles such as Computing, SC Magazine, BusinessGreen and ZDNet.co.uk.

Specialising in sustainable IT and technology in the developing world, he has reported and volunteered on African aid projects, as well as working with charitable organisations such as the UN Foundation and Computer Aid.



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