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In the recent years, there
had been great changes in the area of politics, economy and culture in
Central and Eastern Europe. Due to these facts, the overall power and support
of the state had came to an end with its positive and negative sides. The
establishment of more rational economical system brought a restrictive
educational and labour policy in these countries. Meanwhile, the rapid
development in technology lead to a streamline in most factories and companies
in this region. Many people lost their jobs because of privatization or
racionalization. The complete change in the situation did not leave unaffected
the life of people with visual impairment. Social benefits were cut or
stopped. The old traditional jobs for blind people lost their markets and
many persons with visual impairment found themselves in the street from
one day to the other.
With giving people more freedom and the opportunity to choose, integration of school-age visually impaired children also started in the early 90's. If we look at the traditional educational system of the visually handicapped in Eastern Europe we will find big boarding schools with mostly intellectually untuched bright children. Children from the country had to be separated from their families at the age of 6 to enroll one of these special schools. Parent and professionals' movements and new trends coming from Western European countries and the United States pressed local councils and ministries to give equal rights to handicapped children and their families in making choice for educational settings. New laws were passed on integrated eduaction but financing is still a big problem.
As it is tipical, the government simply forgot about the handicapped population whose responsibility consequently, has grown. The voice of consumer organizations is still to low to advocate their rights.
The new needs and requirements which arouse in the field of education and employment also meant that people with visual impairment had to face new problems of competitive and adaptive skills in mainstreamed educational settings and open market. There are many attempts to reduce the effect of the changes. The most important part of it is preparing people with visual impairment to be able to adjust themselves to the new situation. It starts at a very early age and is an on-going process. The whole special educational system has to be reformed. As a result, teacher training and personnel preparation has to meet these needs and challenges. We have a strong tool to assist them in this process, which is access technology. Access technology by mean of a useful way of electronic communication, information access, access to educational and employment opportunities for people with visual impairment and their trainers with the use of the newly developed technical devices.
The preparation of an Eastern European Network on Access Technology /EENAT/ started in 1995. It was initiated by Overbrook School for the Blind with the aim of meeting the needs of professionals, consumers and institutes to use new developments in access technology more effectively to increase educational and employment opportunities for people with blindness and visual impairment.
The project came into action in 1996 and it is designed to run for 3 years. It is administered by the International Program of Overbrook School for the Blind and financed by the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute. As one of our guiding principle is looking for matching funds, the Project also raised a surprisingly great amount of financial support locally and from the United States. The Project Advisory Group consists of the Project director, Larry Campbell and two representatives of each of the five countries involved which are the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and the Slovak Republic. These countries were chosen because they have already established a basic foundation of access technology with excellent potential to become strong enough in the region to be able to assist others and later, playing the role of changing agents. / map on slide/ Members of the Project Advisory Group /PAG/ and Procejt Administration communicate each others through E-mail, using a list serve and meets semi-annually.
The main goals of EENAT Project are to improve and equalize access by blind and low vision people to greater educational opportunity and to be successful in open market employment. To accomplish these goals, EENAT Project works on the next major fields of activity:
1. Training and Developing Training Materials
2. Development of a Regional Information Exchange
3. Development of a regional
system for Evaluation and Adaptation of Specialized Hardware
4. Provision of and Access to Basic Equipment
The development of more training
opportunities in the use of access technologies by persons
with visual impairment, their families and their teachers in schools, institutes and vocational
programs helps the expansion of educational and labour opportunities. With this purpose
1.) expands the use of computer technology in special schools where limited programs exist
2.) introduces instruction in schools which does not have the capacity to provide such
3.) develops model training programs to promote the integration of blind and low vision
4.) works with universities and colleges to assess and provide appropriate support services
that will open access to higher educational programs for visually impaired students
5.) expands programs for blind adults through vocational and rehabilitation centers and job
training programs developed by organizations of blind persons
6.) develops and carries out a series of training courses at country and regional levels for
teachers, trainers of teachers and parents
7.) develops a wide range of educational materials and publications that will support
improved and expanded training opportunities in the involved and other countries in
the region, too.
The Regional Sub-Center for Training is located in Hungary, at the Bárczi Gusztáv Training College for Teachers of the Handicapped.
Training activities in year 1
To get a broader scope of
view on the actual situation in those five countries and to assess the
real needs existing there, PAG members agreed on developing a Situation
Report in the three major areas of the Project: Training
Information Exchange and
Information was gathered from : Special Schools
Integrated Educational Programs and
Adult Training Programs.
The result of the survey showed and increased number of training programs in special schools, especially for elementary upper grade pupils and for secondary shool age students. The problematic part of these programs was isolation. The number of specialized teachers was far less than the optimum, number of computers and special devices was limited and the knowledge, children acquire was not transfered to other subjects or life sphere. Generally speaking, others than specialized computer teachers were not convinced at all of the use of access technology because of low level of knowledge. In integrated educational programs the situation showed heterogeneous picture. In some countries integration has just started and rather spontaneous so it was very difficult to collect information. In other countries, it has a short time of history with limited resources / e.g. one itinerant teacher for the whole country/. Data collected from those integrated schools identified big gap in service delivery and lack of basic eqipment.
Of particular concern to most countries was the fact that very limited numbers of blind adults, most of whom are currently unemployed had the opportunity to learn about these new technologies. Major factors of this lag were lack of basic equipment and again, low level of awareness among special teachers and staff members on the importance of access technologies.
Based upon the outcomes and the information collected in Situation Reports, during the first year of operation the project concentrated on national level training activities.
Several courses were organized
and materials were developed in the 5 countries including training on basic
as well as advanced level. The real need in our area is shown by the great
number of beneficiaries which was 1.821 most of whom were indirect beneficiaries
with the number of 1.334, those who are expected to receive training from
direct beneficiaries during a 12 month period. /See Table 1/
Country Institute Activity Beneficiaries
Hungary School for the Blind 1.Course for Parents 6 6
2.Course for Teachers 6 74
Association of the Blind 3.Course for Trainers 4 20
Institute for Adult Blind
4.Coures for Blind Adults 12 -
5.Course for Staff 8 40
Teacher Training College 6.Course for Students 12 120
School for the Partially
7.Course for Teachers 7 84
Sighted 8.Course for Ex-Pupils 5 -
9.Course for Mentally Retarded 7 -
Lithuania Association for
the Blind 10.Course for Blind 9 90
Computer Center for the 11.Material
Production 20 70
Blind 12.Expansion of Technical Bases 5 30
and Information Systems
Kaunas School for the 13.Course
for Students 32 -
Blind 14.Course for Staff 10 220
Educational Center and 15.Computer
Network 11 70
Library for the Blind
Poland Association of the
Blind 16.Course for Integrated 10 -
High School Students
17.Course for Teachers of
Integrated Students 10 -
Slovakia Union of the Blind
18.Course on Braille and Speak 11 40 19.Course on Braille Transcription
20.Course for Music Teachers 63 -
21.Course for Teachers 6 150
22.Course for Large Print 4 -
23.Seminar on Integration 80 200
Czech Republic Union of the
Blind 24.Technology Testing Center 130 -
Total 487 1.334
Training activities in year 2
As a result of the first year activities, PAG members set up priorities in the most urgent and important topics of access technology for the blind and visually impaired to discuss them on a regional level. Regional Training and Materials Development Activities for this year includes:
I. Workshop on Assessment of Visually Impaired People Using Access Technology
II. Workshop on WINDOWS 95 for Blind and Partially Sighted People
III.Workshop on Technology
for Visually Impaired Young and
IV. Completing and Disseminating a Collection of Case Studies and a Video
The Workshop on Assessment was held in Prague in April organized by the Czech Union. The aim of the workshop was to visit the newly established evaluation center, to exchange ideas on testing and training people with visual impairment for readiness on using access technology and to discuss the effectiveness of assessment in a successfull employment of blind people. The participants were asked to prepare a paper dealing with their national practice in assessment of people how to use access technology. From the lectures it became clear that in almost all EENAT countries it is the consumer organization who is responsible for advicing and assessment of people who intend to use access technology but only in such cases when they need financial support from the state. This means that organizations of the visually impaired have to give advice to companies or to local governments to buy a special equipment or software to the given consumer or not. It is a great responsibility with many tasks which should be financed by the state. Unfortunately, it is not so.
The Workshop on WINDOWS is designed by the Slovak Union of the Blind. It will be held in Bratislava in September. Since Windows operational system is commonly used by most of the offices, firms and companies it is very important to make Windows accessible for visually impaired people to open employment opportunities. The main goal of this workshop is to improve the awareness of trainers, teachers and experienced blind computer users on accessible Windows systems and techniques. The workshop provides opportunity to the participants to learn from the demonstrations and to evaluate their usefulness. It also helps to attain training models and achieve basic training methods. The organizers invited experienced Windows users who are visually impaired themselves and representatives from Microsoft Slovakia, Rosasoft from the Czech republic, Dolphin from Great Britain, Henter-Joyce from the U.S. and Recognita from Hungary.
Recently, more and more visually
impaired children receive service in early childhood as well as prevalence
of multihandicap among this population is increasing . technology as a
tool can help a lot in the development of contepcualization, cause ans
effect relation, vision stimulation, eye-hand coordination and self-respect.
Central and Eastern-European countries had focused on technology mainly
for school-aged or intellectually untuched blind and partially sighted
children and missed the advantages of those research and practice which
deals with technology for visually impaired pre-schoolers and the multidisabled.
The Workshop on Technology for Visually Impaired Young and Multihandicapped Children will be held in Budapest in November. It is organized by the Hungarian Training College for Teachers of the Handicapped. Our invited speaker is Mrs. Bernadette Kappen from Overbrook School for the Blind. The objective of the workshop is to improve the awareness of early intervention teachers and special teachers working with multihandicapped blind children on the use of computer technology in their teaching process; to make them familiar with educational softwares which enable and facilitate the development of miles-stones; to exchange know-how and experiences; and to share methodological aspects of teaching technology for pre-shool and multihandicapped visually impaired children.
Access technology in employment of people with visual impairment is a key issue. There are some examples of visually impaired people who use access technology and as a result have good jobs in the five EENAT countries. We think it is very important to collect these data and prepare Case Studies for making publicity to these effective and comparable employees. Our aim is to show good examples within Eastern-European circumstences and improve awareness of officials dealing with labour policy in theory and practise on the connection of access technology and quality job. Both the print and the video versions will help to those people who are seeking for jobs and will serve as a reference. The information provided by the case studies and the film will also serve as a good training material for officials, teachers or college students from which they can learn how to prepare youngsters for the open labour market.
2. Access to Basic Equipment
Lack of access to equipment
and software is a problem that is constraining development of
educational and employment services for the visually impaired in almost all countries of
Eastern Europe. To make maximum use of the limited resources, EENAT addresses this
challenge by developing and testing a variety of methods for making equipment more readily
available to individuals and organizations, for making braille production more available to
the end user, by providing guidelines for establishment of incentive programs for employers
who invest in purchase of equipment in order to accomodate blind or visually impaired
employees. During year one, US $ 40,670 was spent to the provision of basic and more
specified equipment for access technology, hardware and software to assist programs to
expand training capacity and serve as a technical or training resource for others.
Now I give the floor to Mr. Branislav Mamojka, president of the Slovak Blind and Partially Sighted Union to present his paper on the two other major fields of activity of EENAT Project, the Development of a Regional Center for Information Exchange and the Evaluation and Research Center on New Technologies.
3. Development of a Regional Center for Information Exchange
One of the major problems
facing individuals who are attempting to use new technologies to
open new education and employment opportunities for visually impaired people is their
relative isolation from what is going on elsewhere in the region, in Western Europe and in
the U.S. in the area of access technology. Gathering and providing access to important
information resources means a tremendous assistance to those working in this area.
EENAT Project capitalizes on new developments, including internet access by establishing
both personal and electronic linkages and an information network that operates centers in
the five countries involved in the project and those beyond. This effort is designed to
increase collaboration and information sharing on areas such as technology, employment,
legislation and training.
The place of the regional center for Information and Exchange Network is in Poland, at the Polish Association of the Blind and Warsaw University.
In the area of information, for each partner the access to Internet is gradually established and the information system based on Internet is created. There was established a listserver where any relevant information can be sent to be automatically distributed to each subscribed project
participant. It was also decided to issue quarterly an electronic bulletin in English language containing articles related to EENAT project topics. Articles from different sources will be recommended and provided by project partners who will also complete them by short abstracts. Final edition will be done by information centre in Poland and distributed to all partners. Each national partner is responsible for translation of abstracts to his national language and distribution of the bulletin to all interested institutions and persons in his own country. Translation of complete chosen articles will depend on financial and personal capabilities of national partners and/or interested institutions and persons.
4. Evaluation and Research on New Technologies
Developments in the field
of access technology have been very rapid. There is a need for
objective evaluation upon which it can be decided what new developments should and could
be adapted to the situation of countries in East and Central Europe as well as the Baltics.
Through this part of the project important challenges of lower cost solutions is identified
and addressed by an evaluation and research center which works closely with collaborators
in the five countries and with those working in this field in other areas of the world.
The Regional Access Technology Evaluation and Development Center was set up in Slovakia at the Slovak Union of the Blind and Partially Sighted.
In the field of technology a necessary condition to achieve the objective of the EENAT project is to make available a basic choice of access technology in each partner country. In different partner countries there is available a different choice of access technology and there exist different gaps in its offer. Only in some countries there exist a few types of national versions of hardware and software representing the worldwide state of art. Due to the lack of funding there are frequently used old and less powerful systems as well.
To ensure the basic choice
of access technology in each partner country the following activities were
- recommendation of easy adaptable foreign products,
- adaptation of existing foreign products,
- development of national products prepared for adaptation for different languages.
The access technology adapted
or developed in framework of the EENAT project should correspond to the
actual worldwide state of art. This requirement is necessary because it
be usable in conjunction with the industry standards of hardware and software used in participating countries which quickly become the same as in most developed countries.
In order to ensure basic
choice as soon as possible two parallel ways are followed:
- adaptation of existing foreign systems,
- development or improvement of systems existing in participating countries.
Adaptations are preferred to satisfy urgent need to fill gaps in basic offer and to ensure provision of systems on world wide standard level when the national development cannot ensure competitive results in a very short time. National developments as longer time tasks can be also supported if the competitive results can be achieved. For this purpose the following main aspects are considered: price, language adaptability, functional power, and user interface. Contact with producers are also established in order to influence them to meet national requirements in their development.
The most urgent task is to ensure access to Windows. It's a matter of fact that Windows becomes nearly exclusive worldwide PC standard and DOS applications become still less used in general educational and employment situations. Although most of visually impaired people are still working in DOS environment and most of general tasks can be solved in that environment the soon transition to Windows is necessary. Without access to Windows many of blind and partially sighted people will soon lose their employment and their education opportunity will be substantially decreased. To start this process it is needed to choose Windows screen readers accepting national characters of participating countries and cooperating with different speech synthesizers using different code pages. The choice is not easy because products and producers recommended must be able quickly response to fast development of computer technology to decrease need of frequent changes of access technology and retraining its users. The other important experience is that for efficient work in Windows using access technology a good knowledge of Windows is still of crucial importance. Therefore, for next month, we are preparing a workshop for teachers and instructors which main topics are "what a visually impaired person has to know about Windows to be able efficiently work in that environment" and "how to train visually impaired people to applications under Windows".
The access technology of the following main types should be made available:
-Large print display, talking and braille PC access systems for Windows and DOS: Systems with minimal language dependence are investigated. If possible, systems with separate message and other language dependent data files and no need of recompilation after their translation are preferred. The advantage of Windows large print display software is that specially developed large fonts are not used, but standard Windows fonts are utilized.
-Braille and talking notetakers: Again a complexity of language adaptation of existing systems is investigated. Also a direction to use standard notebooks is followed.
-OCR system: We have found only one product recognizing characters used by languages of all participating countries. It is Recognita which seems to be enough powerful and price effective in comparison with other products not recognizing our characters. There is the DOS version of it with fairly good user interface. But the goal of cooperation negotiated with producer is to improve the standard Windows version in such a way that it is easy to use by visually impaired persons.
-Internet access systems: Main attention is devoted to end user systems connected to Internet by modem through telephone line because that is a situation in which most of visually impaired person will use it.
-Teletext access systems:
Although there are already used some systems under DOS based on standard
Teletext cards, the final solution is supposed by direct use of standard
Teletext cards under Windows. Very simple and cheap special DOS solution
was also developed. It is Polish Telgaz consisting of DOS software and
small "black box" connected between TV-set and serial port of talking PC.
It can be very easy adapted to arbitrary language and a Teletext code page.
Of course its limited functions corresponds to its low price, but it serves very well.
-Braille translators: There are used some national specially developed translators and commercial translators are also investigated. But special attention is devoted to use of standard word processors with special macros or utilities for braille translation or direct braille printing.
-Training software and games.: The importance of such software is generally recognized. But as the most important need was identified the development of keyboard skills training software for blind and for partially sighted which could be easy adaptable to arbitrary language. Keyboard skills are necessary precondition for any work on PC. We did not oriented our attention to voice recognition. It is still not enough reliable, it is still too depended on user's own voice. Of course, when it becomes enough accurate and voice independent we would like to use it. But now, keyboard is still the main input device for visually impaired persons.
It must be stressed that
the availability of access technology has two aspects - technical and financial.
To increase the technical availability is much more easy than to increase
the financial one. It is enough to compare average incomes and supporting
systems in western and eastern European countries, while prices of access
technology are approximately the same. The EENAT project strives to help
solving both the aspects, however, the technical one is more hopeful. The
direct financial support is very limited and can't solve the problem on
national wide level and from the point of view of long term perspective.
More important is exchange of information about supporting legislation
and initiatives in that field and their comparison.It makes national initiatives
influencing creation new legislation more efficient and powerful.
She is an assistant lecturer
at the Bárczi Gusztáv Training College for Teachers of the
Handicapped in Budapest, which is the only higher educational institute
in Hungary dealing with special education. Her special fields of interest
are early intervention, low vision, itinerant teaching and methodology
of teaching partially sighted children. She has worked at the Department
of Education of the Visually Impaired of the College for 7 years, before
that she had worked at the School for the Partially Sighted for 5 years.
She is the author of the book: "Hold My Hand!" -A Guide-book for Parents
of Visually Impaired Infants and Toddlers which was the first book on early
intervention written in Hungary. She is a member of the Hungarian Association
of Special Teachers, a member of the European Committee of ICEVI. She organized
a conference of ICEVI Europe in 1995 in Budapest and a Workshop of Teacher
Training also for the European Region of ICEVI in Budapest. She has worked
in EENAT Project /Eastern European Network on Access Technology for Blind
and Visually Impaired Persons/ since 1996 where she is responsible for
coordinating the training activities of the project.