16 January 2013

Namibia: Computers Best for Visually Impaired

Windhoek — It is far easier for visually impaired individuals to use computers, instead of typewriters, says Daniel Trum, the national coordinator of the Namibian Federation of the Visually Impaired (NFVI).

Nowadays, visually impaired individuals have access to so-called talking software, which read the screen, such as 'non-visual desktop access' and 'talking typing teacher', which can be installed in their computers. The software programmes enable the computer to read out whatever is on the screen and the visually impaired person can use the computer just like anyone else for typing, reading and replying to emails or logging on to social networks, such as Facebook.

However, visually impaired individuals, as is the case when using a typewriter, have to master the keyboard, if they are to use the computer effectively. First, they have to master the letters in the home row of the keyboard. After that, learners have to master the letters on the rows above and beneath the home row, the head of rehabilitation at the NFVI, Magreth Shuuya, explained.

Students also have to master the arrow keys on the computer, since that would help them with navigation when using the computer, added Trum, who has been blind since 1997. "When we learn the computer, the very first session is exploring the computer to know what is on the keyboard. Once you type, you have to go through your document with the arrow key. The talking software programme has a feature that shows typing errors," explained Trum while demonstrating.

Trum added that using a mouse is not really effective for visually impaired people. According to Shuuya, who in the past taught typing to visually impaired students, learning the layout of the keyboard or computer depends on the student's ability and input. For example, it would take someone with a minimal or no school background much longer to learn than for someone who has attended school. Shuuya explained that the secret is for visually impaired learners or students to know where the letters are.

"Students can master the use of the computer in a month and if they are fast learners they can master it within two weeks," remarked Trum. The NFVI will this year, for the first time in its history, incorporate a computer literacy course as part of its training programme. "Our students will be taught basic computer skills, such as how to save a document and how to retrieve documents. If funds allow, we will also teach them how to use the Internet," he said.

The NFVI is a non-governmental organisation that promotes the wellbeing of visually impaired and partially sighted people by amongst others rehabilitating them. It provides various training programmes for the visually impaired. Trum is concerned that visually impaired people are generally excluded from current developments in the country. "Everything is far from us, nothing is user friendly," he said in a recent interview.

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