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Safaricom Launches M-PESA Services for the Visually Impaired

 

Written by: Peter Okeyo, inABLE Program Manager

On December 4th, an inABLE team of nine blind individuals and staff members had the honor of celebrating World Disability Day at the Safaricom headquarters.  Safaricom LTD, the leading mobile network and mobile money transfer services provider in Kenya, celebrated the day by demonstrating socially responsible leadership through inclusion of persons with disability in both their workforce and products/services.

While in most highly developed countries, inclusion of people with disabilities is an expectation; the reality is, that there are still product developers and service providers who overlook persons living with disability. At Safaricom this is not the case.

For example, computer technology has completely made the world a global village and has even brought a mobile phone-based money transfer services (M-PESA) into our hands. However, this money transfer platform, which required sight, left people with visual impairments without private access. This oversight took away their privacy and security, because personal identification number (PIN) codes were no longer secret.

Thanks to Safaricom’s inclusive values this problem has been resolved. Last August, Safaricom, in collaboration with inABLE, conducted a focus group. Totally blind individuals who utilized accessibility products and services were invited to participate. A voice prompt idea emerged.  Today, Safaricom has released a voice prompt technology that enables the blind to securely access its M-PESA payment services

Safaricom has been a long-term partner to inABLE and a champion of our mission to bring fully accessible product and services to disabled people. Everyone at inABLE.org feels immense pride for our role in the launch of this inclusive M-PESA payment service.

Embassy of Kenya Hosts inABLE Computer-Labs-for-Blind Info Session

inABLE presented an invitational information session on November 2nd at the Embassy of Kenya in Washington DC to highlight our work empowering blind and visually impaired students in Kenya through computer assistive technology. The ambassador of the Republic of Kenya, H.E Robinson Njeru Githae hosted this event in support of the Ministry of Education (MOE), who recently signed an MOU with inABLE to increase access to education by learners with visual impairment through digitalization of all learning materials, basic computer-training curriculum, and impact research.

inABLE Executive Director Irene Mbari-Kirika emphasized that computer education for blind/visually impaired students is vital to provide a more level playing field and a solid foundation for post-graduation employment and educational advancement: “inABLE’s computer-labs-for-the-blind program has already demonstrated the computer capabilities of these special needs students with over 2,000 blind and visually impaired students and teachers gaining access to online educational resources and the ability to research homework assignments, communicate with new friends worldwide, use social media, host blogs and develop employable skills like Java programming and web design.”

[Above: Austin Cooper from the Africa America Institute with Irene Mbari-Kirika, O.G.W., Executive Director inABLE]

To address the existing computer education gaps between the blind and sighted in Kenya, inABLE has already established eight assistive technology computer labs at the six special schools for the blind in Kenya and provided more than 25,000 hours in computer skills training. Combined, the assistive technology computer labs have reached.

In terms of future plans, inABLE is actively seeking corporate partners and charitable funding to establish an Accessibility Innovation Employment Center for the Blind, a Kenyan ICT Accessibility Training, Service and Research Center. The objective is to create a pool of application testers, web developers and more. This project is in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology, AMAC Accessibility Solutions & Research Center and Strathmore University.

Additionally, inABLE is working hard expand our Computer-Labs-to-the-Blind program into every special needs school in Africa. 

Future Kenyan computer lab destinations include:

1. Kibos Primary School for the Blind, Kisumu County

2. Kibos Secondary School for the Blind, Kisumu County

3. Nico Hauser High School for the Blind, Siaya County

4. St. Francis Primary School for the Blind, West Pokot County

5. St. Francis Secondary School for the Blind, West Pokot County

 

Grand Opening of Microsoft Sponsored inABLE.org Computer-Lab-for-Blind in Likoni Kenya

photo caption: Students from four inABLE Computer-Lab-for-the-Blind programs participated in the opening of the Microsoft sponsored computer lab. Pictured above is inABLE Executive Director Irene Mbari-Kirika posing for a selfie with a few students.

Today inABLE celebrated the official opening of the newest inABLE Computer-Lab-for-the-Blind at the Likoni Primary School for the Blind in Mombasa County. Microsoft generously sponsored the setup of the Likoni assistive technology computer lab. The Kenyan Directorate Special Needs Education was among the distinguished guests in attendance. 

Students from four inABLE programs will participate in this event. Schools include: Likoni Primary School for the Blind, Thika Primary School for the Blind, St Lucy Primary School for the Blind in Meru and St Oda Primary School for the Blind in Siaya. These students will share in a peer-to-peer learning session showcasing and exchanging various computer skills in practice across the different stations in the inABLE Computer-Labs-for-the-Blind program.

In Kenya, inABLE and Microsoft have previously worked together at the Thika Primary School for the Blind, where Microsoft supported the setup of an assistive technology computer lab for the special needs students. As well as, supporting training the trainers who continuously support the teachers.

To address the existing computer education gaps between the blind and sighted in Kenya, inABLE has presently established eight assistive technology computer labs at the six special schools for the blind. To date, combined, the assistive technology computer labs have reached over 1,800 blind and visually impaired students and 151 teachers.

Thankful Student Praises inABLE Computer Lab's Many Benefits

 

Photo caption: Administrators & students ready for computer lessons at inABLE Computer Lab opening January 2016

Written by: Jane Kangai, inABLE Africa Computer Instructor

Special thanks to inABLE for establishing a computer-lab-for-the-blind at St. Lucy’s School for the Visually Impaired. The computer program has been a source of light and a channel to the outside world. It has been has highly effective in improving learning standards of participants, including students and teachers.

Yvonne, who is one of the class six students, has experienced lots of timesaving benefits since beginning computer skills lessons. She explains that before the computer lab she and other students went to the library to do research in the company of their teacher. In some instances, another class of students was already using the library space and her entire lesson time was wasted just waiting. As a result of the computer lab program, Yvonne can now do online Internet research on areas covered by the teacher and other topics prior to introduction by the teacher. Additionally, by using computer technology students can access online books i.e. story books through the use of a screen reader program installed on the computers.

Yvonne adds that she really enjoys the computer lab environment because there is usually minimal noise during typing lessons, unlike others classes where she encounters the loud noise generated from the heavy braille machines used by the totally blind pupils.

inABLE Computer-Labs-for-the-Blind Interns Rise to the Challenge

In January, Ephraim Wachira and James KipLangat Kosgei arrived at the inABLE Computer Lab to begin their inABLE Internship program. They were selected from the high school group that did KCSE exam in 2016. We choose them because they were our best students in computer. During their internship we trained them on the program activities, which took them very little time to learn as they had acquired some skills during their inABLE computer lab schooling in both primary and in high school. All along, their determination and personal interest in computers helped them to be valued contributors. Frankly, they joined the inABLE Thika team at a time when we were very much in need.

 

Today, we are happy to report that they both successfully completed their internships supporting two inABLE Computer-Lab-for-the-Blind programs at the primary and high school levels. During their internship, they showed confidence and a consistent willingness to work hard, even without supervision. This allowed our inABLE Thika School computer instructors to sometimes leave them at primary station to handle the high school sessions. We engaged them fully on training, accessibility testing, visitors demo and cleaning of the computer labs. Their eight months stay proved to be a rewarding learning experience that benefited the entire inABLE organization and our students.

We thank them for their commitment and wish them all the best. Their positive "can-do" spirit will definitely lead them to success in future endeavors.