Describe your idea in fewer than 50 words.
Cost-effective, locally-relevant information technology can improve access to education, educational attainment and employment for visually impaired learners. Sightsavers International is piloting the innovative Sightsavers Dolphin Pen in Kenya giving visually impaired learners equal opportunities to their sighted peers and providing a model for replication in Africa.
What makes your idea unique?
Assistive technology has enabled visually impaired people to access information and computers for many years through screen reader talking software, magnification and Braille outputs. However, this technology did not fulfill the needs of developing countries, nor was it affordable at around $1,000 per person.
Our unique solution was to collaborate with the World Blind Union (WBU) and visually impaired people in Africa to specify the type of assistive technology that would fulfill local needs. We then teamed up with Dolphin Computer Access Ltd to develop this technology for the first time. The Sightsavers Dolphin Pen is a mobile screen reader in the form of a USB stick that can be used in any computer. Magnified text and synthetic speech give visually impaired students the same access to textbooks and basic information technology as their sighted peers. The Sightsavers Dolphin Pen costs less that $150, compared to a Perkins Brailler costing around $400 and textbooks in Braille at $45 per volume. This cost-effective model is vital to ensure improved learning for more children in Africa.
The Sightsavers Dolphin Pen is now available in Africa. We are piloting its use through a structured, research-based project in Kenya that involves providing the hardware and software as well as training and support in the use of this assistive technology. This pilot project will provide evidence, learning and best-practice to support the effective use of this technology throughout Africa.
What is your area of work? (Please check as many as apply.)
Children & Youth
, Information technology
, Vulnerable populations
What impact have you had?
Phase 1 of the project began in February 2007 in Nairobi, Eastern and Rift Valley provinces funded by DfID. Through this, 41 visually impaired secondary students and 78 visually impaired trainee teachers at 8 institutions were equipped with a Sightsavers Dolphin Pen and refurbished laptop or access to a desktop computer, and trained to use this new technology.
Timely access to educational materials, including textbooks and information via the internet, has improved significantly enabling students to compete favorably with their sighted peers. This will lead to better educational results including improved reading, writing, maths and critical thinking skills. This is expected to diversify the subjects they can study, widening career choices and improving transition to employment. To date, 2 blind students have taken up information technology as an examinable subject and leading cell phone service provider SafariCom is now employing 4 beneficiaries of the project.
Personal motivation and sense of inclusion also improved dramatically as students were given the freedom to access information from any computer.
These early signs of success are promising. As this is a pilot project, a research study is being undertaken to assess the extent to which assistive technology enhances accessibility of educational materials, leading to improved learning outcomes and life chances of visually impaired students, and the extent to which the technology reduces the cost of education.
Describe the primary problem(s) that your project is addressing.
45 million people worldwide are blind. Over 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not go to school. If the Millennium Development Goal to provide universal primary education to all children is to be reached, blind and visually impaired children must be included in education. In Kenya, like in other developing countries, an estimated 25% of visually impaired children attend primary school, compared to a total enrolment rate of 76%, and fewer than 10% go on to secondary education despite a relatively well developed inclusive education system. Accessing learning materials is extremely challenging due to the high cost and labour intensive process of producing books in Braille. The needs of visually impaired children are neglected, leading to poor performance, high drop out rates, and loss of self-esteem.
Describe the steps that your organization is taking to make your project successful.
1. Partnerships: The project is built into existing education structures to encourage ownership and effective replication within individual schools and the Ministry of Education (MoE). The programme management committee comprises key stakeholders who drive the strategy and analyse performance for continuous improvement. On a regional level, we are partnering with the WBU to make this project visible and encourage other governments in Africa to mainstream technology into their inclusive education strategies.
2. Monitoring, evaluation and learning are critical to improve effectiveness and generate research evidence for replication of the model. Using indicators such as academic grades, employment salary, confidence and independence, the pilot groups are being tracked over a three year period and compared to control groups with less or no access to assistive technology.