Accessibility Technology Keeps Visually Impaired on the Cutting Edge
Ulma Haryanto & Anita Rachman
At the office of the Mitra Netra Foundation for the blind, a boy, still in his senior high school uniform, is busy in front of one of the computers.
Running his fingers deftly over the keyboard, he steers his way from program to program, relying on a computerized voice to read him the text on the screen.
He manages to download several songs, save them in a special folder, open a text document to type his name and “read” the news online.
During the past decade, several technological advances such as those at Mitra Netra have opened up a new world to people with disabilities.
Text-to-speech computer software, scanners with optical character recognition capabilities and other features in today’s phones and computers help them navigate through the wider world.
At the foundation, the visually impaired are taught how to make use of these tools. For instance, they are taught to memorize all the keys on a conventional QWERTY keyboard and shortcuts, rather than having to use a more expensive Braille keyboard or a mouse. After a while they also get used to the computerized voice, which to the untrained ear sounds more like a mechanical gaggle.
“Of course in the beginning they get the machine to speak slower, but now they’re used to it,” says Aria Indrawati, a spokeswoman for the foundation.
One of the graduates of this course, Dimas Prasetyo Muharam, 24, decided to use what he learned to create an online community for the disabled.
In 2006, Dimas and three other disabled youths launched Kartunet, short for Karya Tuna Netra or Creation of the Visually Impaired, at www.kartunet.com.
“In the beginning we just wanted to showcase what we’re capable of, creating a website and publishing articles written by those who are disabled,” Dimas tells the Jakarta Globe.
They also regularly post information for people living with disabilities, such as new regulations, study or work opportunities and news articles.
“We also have a Twitter account, @Kartunet, and a Facebook page, Kartunet, where we communicate with the others,” Dimas says.
Kartunet has more than 1,000 followers on Twitter and more than 2,400 likes on its Facebook page. In September, the site won a Rp 244 million ($26,000) grant from Cipta Media Bersama, a program backed by the Ford Foundation Indonesia.
“With the grant, we’re taking it further to spread the spirit to create to those with living with disabilities,” Dimas says.
In March, Kartunet started an Internet radio stream for citizen journalism.
“Some kids with disabilities can be shy, but some can be a bit too friendly and talkative,” Dimas says. “The online radio program is for the second group.”
He adds that Kartunet also plans to launch an awareness campaign on inclusive communities in the near future.
“There’s a saying that you can’t love what you don’t know,” he says.
“The public forgets that we exist, or doesn’t know what to do when it meets us, so we want to reach out and show that we have the same rights.”