Computer Eyes helps visually impaired master PCs

Von Jenalyn M.

Visually impaired students seeking to become computer proficient could be helped thanks to the efforts of Resources for the Blind Inc. (RBI), a nonprofit, charitable organization serving the blind, and IBM Philippines which continue to pursue a computer training program called Computer Eyes.

Launched in 2000, the project aims to instill interest in computers among visually impaired students. It also seeks to show that with appropriate technology, blindness is not a hindrance to computer competency.

Now on its fifth year, Computer Eyes has more than a hundred graduates, some of whom are already employed in jobs requiring computer skills and knowledge.

?Some of our volunteers are now enrolled in computer science courses,? said Randy Weisser, executive director of RBI.

This year?s intensive two-week, eight-hours-a-day crash course formally opened last May 16, with 10 elementary students from the Metro Manila area joining high school and college students representing schools from Pangasinan in the north to Davao in the south. The program will end on May 27.

Computer Eyes was formerly a computer camp for high school and college students but last year, RBI and IBM decided to include elementary pupils. ?The earlier we can introduce computer skills to students, the better success they?re going to have in the future,? said Weisser.

The 30 participants were welcomed by Weisser, IBM general manager and president Joaquin Quintos IV, and IBM country marketing manager Chestnut Andaya. Quintos said IBM, which initiated Computer-Eyes, plans to continue the project for several more years.

?IBM has been very supportive of and enthusiastic about this project,? Weisser said, adding that this is one of the ?most productive? partnerships they have.


This year?s program will consist mostly of intensive training sessions in computer literacy and the use of the adaptive software called JAWS made specifically for the blind. Short for Job Access With Speech, JAWS is a screen reader available for Windows which provides access to software applications like Microsoft Word, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer. Through its internal software speech synthesizer and the computer?s sound card, information from the screen is read aloud, allowing blind users access to various information.

Roselle Ambubuyog, a consultant at Freedom Scientific, the maker of JAWS, shared the difficulties of being a blind student. ?Technology is growing, it is developing; fortunately, it is helping us,? she said.

Ambubuyog demonstrated how Mobile Speak, one of the latest technological developments for blind people, helps her. Mobile Speak is a screen reader for cellular phones which has a pronunciation dictionary that can be programmed to read and pronounce Filipino words properly and decode SMS (Short Message Service) abbreviations that Filipinos are fond of using.

JAWS, which is exclusively distributed in the country by RBI, and Mobile Speak are just some of the solutions that are now available for the visually impaired. ?We don?t have to worry anymore if there will be a way to access things,? said Ambubuyog, who asked the camp participants to follow the example set by two blind Freedom Scientific executives who made the most of the opportunities that came their way.

For his part, Weisser said RBI is pleased with the way JAWS has helped blind students, noting how the software has given them a good jump start in their computer skills.

?We don?t want them to get left behind,? he said.

Expressing his expectations from the camp, 19-year-old Julius Ceasar Tan, a fourth year high school student at the Ramon Magsaysay High School in Manila, said: ?I would like to know more about computers, downloading and research, which I hope I can apply in my life.?