Computers donated by the Zambia Information Communications Technology Authority (Zicta) are being used by pupils and teachers at Ndola’s Lions School for the Visually Impaired.
The Copperbelt-based special school for the blind and partially sighted has built a laboratory in which 10 computers have been installed.
Computer literacy is one of the subjects that the Ministry of Education has made compulsory for all learners at basic and secondary schools, whether they are able-bodied or disabled.
To make the computers accessible to the blind and the partially sighted, those installed at the Lions School for the Visually Impaired have Job Access with Speech (Jaws), software that transforms text into speech.
School head teacher Kombe Mulenga said the computers were being used mostly by pupils in Grade 12, the last grade at senior secondary school.
“Blind pupils are able to work effectively because Jaws software has been installed in the computers,” he said.
“It is now a requirement in Zambia that those who are at school should have basics in computers.”
Mulenga said computer literacy was one of the subjects on which pupils with visual impairment were being tested by the Examination Council of Zambia.
Computers with Jaws software, with connection to the internet, have made life easier for visually impaired pupils; their use was an option to the production of braille, a raised dot system embossed on special paper that enables the blind to read by sense of touch.
Mulenga said the Curriculum Development Centre had donated a braille embosser that would be connected to the computers to allow braille outputs for pupils and teachers.
Extracurricula uses of braille by the pupils at Lions School include production of poems, plays and short stories by pupils and teachers.
Visually impaired pupils who do well at secondary school proceed to Ndola’s National Vocational Rehabilitation Centre (NVRC), where they do advanced courses in computers.
Some students at NVRC were recently involved in the production of braille adverts – a project that was sponsored by Hivos Southern Africa and overseen by Hivos Zimbabwe.
Zicta has also donated computers to other schools for the blind throughout the country, and to colleges and universities.
Facilities at learning institutions for the disabled were being computerised following Zambia’s domestication of the UN Conventions on the Right of Persons with Disabilities.
Zambia enacted the Persons with Disabilities Act No 6 of 2012 that extends to the international law on the disabled, shortly after the Patriotic Front (PF) came to power in 2011.
Copperbelt co-ordinator for the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ZAPD) Anthony Mwansa commended Zicta for donating computers to the Lions School for the Visually Impaired.
The ZAPD was created to look at the affairs of the disabled and to register them.
Mwansa said the school had complied with the Persons with Disabilities Act No 6 by establishing a ramp for wheelchair users leading into the computer laboratory.
“The laboratory is accessible by learners in wheelchairs because a ramp has been provided in the design,” he said.
Mwansa said he appreciated that computers had been introduced at Lions School, but lamented that the general access to education by people with disabilities was still low compared to access to education for the able-bodied.
Mwansa was an able-bodied student at Kitwe’s Copperbelt University before he became disabled after a sports accident on a basket ball court, resulting in a spinal injury and confinement to a wheelchair.
The ZADP official also said there was a need to change old equipment at centres that had been constructed for the disabled to improve skills transfer.
Mwansa said most of the equipment at those centres throughout the country were obsolete, making production difficult and expensive for the disabled.
He was speaking after a tour with the African Independent of Kang’onga Production Centre on the outskirts of Ndola.
The centre produces furniture from rattan such as sofas, coffee tables, TV stands and wooden brushes.
A check found that carpentry equipment that had been procured from Finland was no longer in use.
However, Mwansa said the PF government had increased funding for the disabled compared to when the Movement for Multi-party Democracy was in power before 2011.