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How ICTs Can Empower Blind Students: Souktel’s New Audio Service in Palestine

Photo Credit: http://www.123rf.comLately there has been a lot of talk about how mobile phones can improve the access to and quality of education in the classroom.  But how has the technology affected students with special needs?

Souktel, an organization that designs and delivers mobile phone services for finding jobs and connecting aid agencies with communities in need, announced Tuesday that it has developed a new mobile audio service that is empowering blind and low-literacy communities.  The voice messaging system allows users to record messages online and send them to multiple phones easily and efficiently.  The messages can then be retrieved by the recipients through using a voice-activated service or touch-tone audio menu, allowing easy access to information for the visually impaired and illiterate.

As part of Souktel’s mission to give low-income communities the information they need to improve their lives, Nureddin Amro, founder of the Siraj al-Quds School in East Jerusalem for both blind and sighted students, is now able to use this innovation to record messages online and send them to the mobile phones of students, staff, and parents.  “It saves a lot of time and money,” says Amro, “I love using it.  We sent a message just yesterday [to several hundred people] announcing the launch of a new program and the services and activities that will start February 1st … And I’ll send another one out tomorrow to advertise the beginning of second semester.”

Nureddin, visually handicapped and an innovator himself, has pioneered a new integrated-education approach to teaching visually impaired students, allowing them equal opportunities in school and providing them with the necessary skills to becoming accepted and integrated into their communities.  Recognized for his advocacy for disabled students’ rights and groundbreaking work at the school, Nurredin was named an Arab World Social Innovator by the Synergos Institue in New York, the organization which funded the Souktel project.

Using mobile phones in education is certainly not a new idea but mobile learning, commonly referred to as mLearning, is such a new opportunity for many schools within developing countries that searching for documented examples of it’s application to aid blind students yields few results.  Computer-based technology, or eLearning, has already provided tools that are helping visually impaired students.  In fact, Nureddin’s Siraj al-Quds School is already using ‘talking computer’ technology which uses an assistive learning computer program designed for blind students.

Photo Credit: Nureddin AmroBut through identifying more cases where Souktel’s services can be used, as well as exploring new creative ways in how mlearning can be introduced to help, not only blind students, but all students with special needs, these new technologies promise to aid education and informing low-literacy populations.  “In almost every developing country, illiteracy and disability are massive challenges,” says Souktel president Jacob Korenblum.  “When a large percentage of the community can’t read, they can’t get the basic information they need for daily life: Where to find a doctor, where to find emergency food supplies.”  For Souktel, mobile audio services have become a growing part of its work and will be a major focus for 2012.