Information and Communication Technology Training for the Blind in Indonesia
By Didi Tarsidi
Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (UPI)
Indonesia is an archipelago consisting of over 17,000 islands large and small with the population of about 230 million people. It is estimated that the population with visual impairment constitutes 1% of the whole population, i.e. over two million people.
The first school for the blind in Indonesia was established by a Dutch ophthalmologist, Dr. Westhoff, in 1901 in Bandung. The number of special schools for the blind grew rapidly after the first Indonesian Education Act was passed in 1952 (seven years after Indonesian independence). Most special schools for the blind offer nine years of schooling (six years of primary school and three years of junior high school). Many blind students go to regular high schools to continue their schooling, and this has been practiced since early 1960-s, long before the idea of integrated education was introduced in Indonesia in 1978 and inclusive education in 1998.
The first blind persons to study at a university in Indonesia were in the second half of 19960’s. Through a lot of advocacy by blind individuals and their advocates and pressure from organizations of the blind, more and more universities and other higher education institutions are open to blind students. Currently about 300 blind and visually impaired students are studying at universities and other higher education institutions. Courses in higher education that are most popular among persons with visual impairment include: language (English; Indonesian; German; Arabic; Sundanese), special education, law, social politics, guidance and counseling, civic education, and theology.
Among the challenges faced by students with visual impairment in persuing their education is access to learning materials. Braille books for basic education are rare, let alone for higher education, and in fact they are not among the priorities of organizations serving the blind. However, the access has been revolutionized since computer technology for the blind was introduced to the blind in Indonesia by the turn of the 21st century.
Review on Assistive Technologies for Computer Access
To enable blind persons to have access to computer, the assistive technology has been developed by making use of speech technology and refreshable Braille display.
Refreshable Braille display device converts text into Braille characters that can be read by touch on the display panel. This hardware device is connected to CPU to receive text data and functions as monitor. Due mainly to price consideration, so far Braille display is produced only to display one line of Braille characters, varying from 18 to 80 characters per line. The information displayed on the monitor screen will be displayed on the Braile display line by line successively. The speed of a blind person reding the monitor screen using the Braille display is closely related to his Braille reading skill. A research finding by Simon & Huertas (1998) shows that the average reading speed of experienced blind Braille readers is 90-115 words per minute compared to 250 300 words per minute of those who read visually. However, the biggest obstacle for most blind persons to own this device is the price which is still extremely high (over two thousand US dollars).
Speech technology enables blind computer users to have access to the display on the monitor screen by listening to the synthetic voice. The speech reading software is integrated into the operating system and can access almost all application programmes. The voice is produced through the available sound card with the quality similar with the real human speech. The speech screen reading software consists of two main components, i.e. the speech synthesizer that converts text into speech and the screen reader which enables the computer user to navigate the screen in accordance with his or her needs (for instance to read by character, by word, by sentence or even to read the whole document continuously, to read the document controls, menus etc.). Now there are many choices of speech screen reading software in the international market (such as JAWS, WindowEyes, Keynote to name a few) which is designed for different languages. The most popular in Indonesia is JAWS from Freedom Scientific, the United States. Two main advantages of the speech technology compared to the Braille display are (1) the computer users will be able to fully make use of their both hands to operate the keyboard (do not have to use their hands to read), and (2) the price is much lower. In addition, the speed of the screen reader in reading the monitor screen also can be adjusted as preferred, and so also the pitch and type of voice. This means that a blind computer user can read the monitor screen as fast as his/her ears can catch the meaning rendered by the voice of the speech synthesizer and can choose the type of reading voice according to his/her preference.
To produce hard copy in Braille format, Braille printers (also called Braille embossers) have been been developed and produced that are operated with Braille translation software that translates data from ordinary print into Braille format. The Braille translation software that is specially designed to accommodate the Indonesian Braille system has been produced by Mitra Netra Foundation. The software which is called MBC can be used to operate different Braille embossers available in the international market.
With the help of assistive technbologies mentioned above, plus a scanner, blind persons can have access to print books or any other reading materials after going through the scanning process, and this enables them to read ordinary books independently.
To help make it easier for blind persons to read ordinary books, a reading machine has been developed which is designed specially to help blind persons to read print. This device integrate processor, scanner and speech synthesizer in one compact hardware.
On the other hand, to make it easier for blind persons to input and store data, some companies have developed Braille Notetaker, i.e. a small computer (weighing about 1 kg) that enables blind persons to write in braille and receive the output in speech and/or braille. This device is equipped with Braille display and Braille keyboard and speech synthesizer in one compact hardware.
With these assistive technologies, blind persons can do various kinds of tasks as other computer users in general do such as word processing, accounting, music composing, Internet browsing, programming, etc. This has enabled blind persons to do the jobs that are traditionally done with sight. So, for blind persons, the computer is not simply a work tool but is also an access tool to the “sighted world”.
Among the challenges that is still faced by most blind persons in Indonesia is that the assistive technology is still very expensive. The popular JAWS screen reader from Freedom Scientific, for instance, is retailed at over 1000 US dollars. In addition, there is not yet a screen reader with Indonesian TTS. However, the approach to that direction is actually already much closer when Dr. Arry Arman from ITB created Indo-TTS, one important component of a screen reader software. Therefore, further research and cooperation need to be encouraged to create an Indonesian screen reader with affordable price to fit the domestic economic status so as to make it easier for Indonesian blind persons to have access to the computer and finally to the “sighted world”.
Review on ICT Training for the Blind in Indonesia
Computer was introduced to the blind in Indonesia in mid-1990’s when the word processors WordStar and WordPerfect under DOS environment were popular. The screen reader used was JAWS for DOS with hardware speech synthesizers. The invention of software speech synthesizers by the end of the 20th century had made screen readers more affordable. Furthermore, computers also had become less and less expensive and thus more and more blind individuals can afford to have their own personal computers.
The first blindness institution in Indonesia to organize computer skill training was Mitra Netra Foundation. Then some other organizations including Pertuni follow. While the Mitra Netra Foundation runs its training programme on a regular basis, Pertuni runs the training on project basis in short-term, intensive courses for one to two weeks and mobile from branch to branch of Pertuni.
Computer skill training began to be included in curriculum of some special schools for the blind around the year 2003. However, most special schools for the blind still lack instructors and the necessary facility to have their own curricular programme on ICT. Therefore, the waiting list for the training programme at Mitra Netra and Pertuni is often very long. Many enthusiastic individuals become competent computer users from peer-to-peer tutoring.
The main access software for the ICT training is JAWS. Among the advantages of JAWS, that makes JAWS populer in Indonesia, is that this screen reading software has the dictionary feature that enable its users to teach it how to pronounce Indonesian words more correctly.
The course materials in the training programmes generally include Windows fundamentals, Microsoft Office application programmes, and Internet application. Materials for advanced learners include HTML, software instalation, and using scanner with OCR programme. Some individuals are motivated even to learn hardware instalation.
ICT Training Outcomes
The following are among the achievements of blind persons in Indonesia after they gain computer skills.
1. Some blind persons earn their living from computer programming.
2. Some blind musicians make use of computer for music composition and recording.
3. A number of blind persons take computer instructing as their job.
4. More and more blind workers use computer to help with their work.
5. Students use computer to accomplish their assignments.
6. E-mail has become an important means of communication among blind persons and blindness organizations.
7. It has become common among blind persons to use Internet for leisure activities and knowledge enrichment.
Labels: Education and Training