ATF was awarded an insignia from Al Quds Open University in appreciation of its endeavors in this area.
This project is considered a practical innovation which builds on the theoretical framework developed by ATF in the interests of those with special needs. It aims to establish a new service that is non-existent in the West Bank at the moment; two computer laboratories for blind and visually impaired university students enabling them to attain a level of proficiency equal to that of their sighted colleagues and benefit from the facilities and potential capabilities provided by the technological development of the computer. ATF will collaborate with the Italian Institution RC for the interest of Al Quds Open University to implement the project. The centers will be established in Jenin and Hebron where twenty visually impaired students will take part in the first stage of training. It is hoped that the centers will be expanded in order to serve the largest possible number of clients.
The objective is to promote computer literacy among blind and visually impaired university students by raising awareness of new technologies and providing the necessary equipment, software and support. Special user centers will be established at two West Bank universities to provide the necessary training and ensure the maximum success of the project.
The project will target blind and visually impaired university students studying in the North and South Districts of the West Bank. These two areas were chosen because of their considerable distance from the central cities of Ramallah and Jerusalem as well as their limited resources. The associate partners, Al-Quds Open University in Jenin and Hebron, have identified twenty-four blind university students and fifty students with partial visual impairments currently enrolled in these districts.
The project outputs include:
Two trainers specialized in enabling blind and visually impaired students to achieve computer literacy with adapted equipment and software, and two information technology specialists able to provide the maintenance support for the systems provided by the specialized computer centers.
Two specially equipped computer centers established within the North and South Districts of the West Bank providing computer literacy training to enable access to computer technology for the blind or visually impaired user.
Two groups of blind students currently enrolled in the associate partner universities and/or districts. Both groups will receive training and supervision on the use of the new computer equipment and software.
Information workshops with equipment/software demonstrations conducted to introduce governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions, educators, school officials and students to the availability of advanced computer technology for blind or visually impaired users. The advantages these types of resources will have for the individual beneficiary and society in general will also be discussed.
Inclusion in the computer generation and achieving computer literacy is expected to enhance social integration for blind or visually impaired students in their communities. Having access to the internet, blind or visually impaired students will be able to participate in and contribute to discussions and ideas. Further benefits include:
An increase in self-esteem, motivation and independence.
Increased integration and participation in the university s community.
Increased integration and participation in general society.
Promotion of equal education and employment in the Ministry of Higher Education, Palestinian Universities, Union for the Disabled and Schools and Institutions for the Blind or Visually Impaired.
Increased post-graduation employment opportunities in beneficiary areas of study.
Better access to competitive salaries in the workplace and financial compensation for performance.
Better access to future career and professional development in beneficiary interest areas.
With a number of projects to its credit, ATF continues to be involved directly and indirectly with issues related to the disabled and people with special needs. The most significant factor, however, that led to researching and developing this particular project was the input of several participants in the ATF Youth Leadership Program (university level) who articulated the challenges of their disabilities - especially related to being university students. The absence of computer use by visually impaired students was identified as being pivotal to separating them and sighted students which in turn had far reaching consequences for their academic performance and job opportunities after graduation.
To further explore this issue, ATF turned to its extensive contacts in the fields of higher education, training, employment and disabilities, including the Ministry of Higher Education, The Palestinian Union for the Disabled, The Palestinian Central Committee for the Disabled, educators in the university as well as a number of blind professionals living and working in Palestine.
ATF conducted a survey to assess the actual needs of blind and visually impaired students gaining valuable information about the resources presently devoted to facilitate their computer use and access. The conclusion was that this problem had viable solutions; the technology and apparatus for blind students to become computer literate does exist. However, due to a number of factors including a lack of general awareness of available options, the expense and difficulty of obtaining the necessary equipment and software and the need for specialized trainers in their use, none of the universities in the West Bank, to date, have provided this aid to its blind and visually impaired students.
While all other students are required to achieve proficiency in the use of computers and are called upon to incorporate certain information in their studies directly provided by computer access, these requirements are waived for blind and visually impaired students. As a result these students are excluded from the full benefits of their university education and, furthermore, incur an additional disadvantage compared with sighted graduates when competing for employment.
During the development of this project proposal ATF met with some of the many contacts it has developed over the years including relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions, and interested individuals which generated unanimous enthusiasm and support. These already established relationships will be a valuable resource during the implementation of the project.
The immediate target beneficiaries include:
Blind students currently enrolled in university level courses in the North and South Districts of the West Bank (Figures provided by the Ministry of Higher Education)
TOTAL: 8 females and 16 males = 24
Age: Post Secondary School to University Students (primarily age 18-24)
It is important to note that each year an estimated 15 additional blind students will become direct beneficiaries of the established centers. In addition there are benefits for visually impaired students including:
a) Other visually impaired university students who are not classified as Legally Blind will be able to use the centers - fifty five students in the North and South Districts of the West Bank have been identified by the Ministry of Higher Education.
b) Visually impaired high school students will be encouraged to further their education at university level knowing these centers will be available to facilitate their computer proficiency and access. (150 have been identified by the Ministry of Higher Education).