Special technology allows blind students to work with computers

The Charter 77 Foundation has launched an interesting new project called Making Chances Equal; it supports computer literacy in schools for blind students and children with locomotive disorders. Last week, the foundation provided such schools with 108 special computer appliances, including 23 Braille terminals used to convert computer writing into Braille. This allows blind students to read with their fingers what a sighted person can see on the screen.

Two such Braille terminals, including software, have been given to the only specialised grammar school for blind students in the Czech Republic, which is located on the outskirts of Prague. Ivan Antov, the director of the school, explains why those devices are so important for his students.

"They are very helpful for orientation on the display. Blind students can read the text with their finger or hear it, if they have voice output. I believe that it is most efficient if they can work with both methods simultaneously. Computers give our student chance to communicate with many people."

Blind students can work with computers just like anyone else. It simply takes them longer, since they cannot recognize the layout on the screen and have to read or listen to everything that appears on it. Braille terminals make it much easier to understand the text, and enable students to check their spelling. They make it possible for pupils to do tests and essays on the computer.

The computer lab is used not only by the grammar school students, but also by students of two connected business schools. All three receive normal state funding, but classes are smaller: the maximum number is 12 pupils per class. Mr Antov is glad to see an increase in support from local authorities, and says most of his students have the same options as sighted students.

"Most of the students of grammar school go on to university. They study social science, languages, law, economics, computer sciences. There are also students who get jobs especially in administration or telemarketing. But to be honest I have to say that it is sometimes difficult, particularly outside of Prague, to get the first job."

Teaching blind students requires a greater preparation on the part of teachers, who sometimes have to prepare their own teaching aids. But, as Mr Antov says, once a teacher starts to work at the school for the blind they usually like it so much they stay there for their whole career.

"I think the job is interesting, because it is changing all the time. To work with a small group of students or individual students brings you something very important for life."