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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Talking computers boost Ghana's blind
By Kwaku Sakyi-Addo
BBC, Ghana

In a small, tidy air-conditioned room with about 10 computers, the users have headphones on, but their heads aren't bobbing to an MP3 download of the latest Afro-Jazz hit.

Jeanne Wright helps a blind student
Blind students need computer skills too
The computer screens have a glare all right, and the script is of regular characters; but the six people engaged on the keyboards do not see what they are typing out.

A special screen-reader software enables them to listen, rather than see, what they are generating on the screen.

Because they are blind.

This is the Computer Learning Centre of the Ghana Society for the Blind (GSB), the umbrella organisation which looks out for the interests of unsighted people in Ghana.

The centre is located within the premises of the Accra Rehabilitation Centre, a state-funded instittution which provides facilities for people with disability in the country.

The centre was funded by the GSB itself through its fundraising activities, and received additional support from several local charities, and Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin III, a particularly socially-conscious local chief and patron of the Society for the Blind.

Keyboard skills

"We set up this place because there are blind professionals and students who need computer skills just like everybody else," said Jeanne Wright, an African-American volunteer teacher at the centre.

"Computer skills will make blind professionals more attractive on the job market, if we can get rid of prejudice from employers, that is."

Cephas Torkonoo
Cephas Torkonoo was a high-flying banker until he lost his sight
Trainees are vetted for proficiency in English and braille; keyboard skills are an advantage.

"We have to go through a selection process, unfortunately, because the facilities are limited, and we restrict the size of each class to eight. And even then we run two shifts of four each," says Peter Obeng Asamoah, manager of the centre, who is himself blind.

One of the new students is Cephas Torkonoo, 31, a staff of the treasury department of a well-known bank in Accra until two years ago when he lost his sight to meningitis.

"I lost my sight, I lost my job, I lost my fiancee, and I'm about to lose my place at the university too," he said.

The university authorities decided Cephas could not manage further studies in accounting.

"But I can. I have a talking calculator; I'm re-learning how to use the computer as a blind person, and I've bought a new laptop with the screen-reader software, but nobody wants to listen to me," laments Cephas.

"I'm educated, I can't just sit there and do nothing."

Browsing

Alima Abdulkarim has had better luck. She teaches education at the Accra Teacher Training Centre where all her students are sighted.

Alima says the computer centre has been especially useful to her because she teaches six classes, each consisting of dozens of students.

Students outside the school
The school wants an internet connection
"I'm able to prepare my notes on the computer, and print them out and hand them to the students, because I can't write it out and they too can't read braille," explains Alima who is in her early thirties.

The Society would like to expand the centre and bring in more computers so that they can train more blind people.

"Also," says Asamoah, "we'd like to have an internet connection here so we can have an internet cafe so that we too can browse. We understand there's a software that can do it."

They're working on raising funds to achieve that dream.

Says Torkonoo: "I'm optimistic about the future for all blind people. I can see light at the end. With technology we can do a lot."

Society may have shoved the blind into a dark tunnel that's lacking in opportunities.

But the light and sound from computer screens may well point them towards a new direction.




SEE ALSO:
Fighting for Uganda's blind
06 Oct 03  |  Africa
Bringing sight to Kenya's blind
09 Oct 03  |  Africa
Blind leading the blind
11 Nov 99  |  Africa


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