Providing Visually Impaired Ethiopians With Internet Access and ICT Training
Ethiopia, a population of 100 million residents is one of Africa’s most developed countries. On the ICT and technology side Ethiopia has a unique situation where Internet access is under the government of Ethiopia’s control. There is very little competition. Internet access is provided nation-wide by Ethio Telecom. This allows the government to control the marketplace and set pricing and licensing of Internet. In doing so it creates some difficulties for providing Internet and communications across the country as access to competitively priced communications is limited. Mobile phone penetration in Ethiopia is only at around 40% of the population, and only 2% of the population have fixed-line Internet connections in their homes. In order for the majority of Ethiopians to access the web they rely on Internet Cafés as Internet access points.
Ethiopia is also home to around 500,000 residents that are visually impaired and ICT technologies and training are critical to allow these individuals the opportunity to work and live independent lives. ICTs and Internet are critical as they provide a vehicle for empowerment to learn and access information. Libraries and other resources in Ethiopia can only accommodate visually impaired persons to a limited degree, but the Internet provides a near infinite opportunity for knowledge and employment.
The Adaptive Technology Center for The Blind (ATCB) set up the Pioneers Collegiate for the Blind, a training center that provides visually challenged citizens the opportunity to learn vocational skills and basic computer skills to improve their quality of life. In 2008, the ATCB received a license from the government to operate as the Technical Vocational and Education Training (TVET) institute. Since 2008 the TVET annually has trained a cohort of 20 -30 individuals. The ATCB organizes events to build capacity and awareness in assistance technologies partnering with UNESCO, ITU, and the Internet Society.
The ATCB has built an Internet Café in the center of Addis Ababa with 10 computer terminals equipped with adaptive technologies and text-to-speech translation software that enable visually challenged users to utilize the Internet at their ease. The Center also houses a Braille Transcription Center that houses over 2000 texts and literature in both English and Amharic.
The ATCB provides a haven for those with visual impairments to empower themselves, and to access the Internet in a country where it is a challenge for those without impairments to access the web. The center has provided these individuals with skills and knowledge that they can apply in the real world to gain employment, and the opportunity to live fruitful and independent lives that would not otherwise be possible without the use of ICTs and access to the Internet.