The Jakarta Post, Indonesia.
Monday, February 20, 2006.
There are no arguments for the cause of the blind stronger than those presented by the blind themselves. But for the visually impaired to be able to fight for their rights, education comes first and foremost.
Unfortunately, the main stumbling block facing the blind, or people with any other disability, is the attitude of society, which tends to dismiss their capabilities, including in the field of education.
"There's a lot of negative images that surround blindness, which manifest themselves in either overt or sometimes subtle attitudes of what blind people can and cannot do," the president of the International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI), Lawrence F. Campbell, said Friday.
The biggest obstacle preventing blind people from entering university, for example, usually comes from entrance committees that cannot imagine the difficulties a blind person must face to get through university life.
"So we are concerned that in the developing world today, nine out of 10 children with visual impairments are locked out of the education system," Campbell told The Jakarta Post.
He said that while over the years there had been increasing concern for providing children with visual impairments basic education, less attention had been given to those who aim at higher education.
"Admittedly, there are only a small percentage of people that reach the point where they can actually qualify to enter higher education, but when they reach that point it's not easy at all," Campbell said.
Underlining this point, a member of local non-governmental organization Mitra Netra Foundation, Tolhas Damanik, said blind and visually impaired people in Indonesia were encouraged to continue to vocational school after junior high school, instead of pursuing a university degree.
"The challenges that they face, the lack of support systems in place at universities, can be very discouraging and only the most determined really persist," Campbell said.
To make increase access to higher education for the visually impaired, the ICEVI, together with the Overbrook-Nippon Network on Educational Technology (ON-NET), is working with the Mitra Netra Foundation, the Indonesian Union for the Blind and the Indonesian University for Education (UPI) in Bandung, on a pilot project in Jakarta and Bandung.
"This pilot project can demonstrate that with a modest investment these barriers can be overcome, and life at university can be made easier and less stressful for blind students," said Campbell, who is also ON-NET's project director.
The project, expected to be set up at Bandung's UPI and at Mitra Netra's office in Lebak Bulus, South Jakarta, will provide visually impaired university students with assistance such as screen reader-equipped computers, educational materials in Braille and recorded form, as well as orientation and counseling support.
The US$60,000 project is expected to benefit more than 80 students, including some 50 students in Bandung, most attending UPI, and about 33 students at 14 universities in Greater Jakarta. It is hoped the project will encourage other universities and institutions to set up similar programs.
End of article.
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