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A leveler of playing fields
For partially blind Sumitha Ramasamy, 26, acquiring technology acumen was never easy despite her early interest as a teenager. "Only the sighted were given classes in school because at that time there were no adaptive equipment available for the blind such as voice synthesizers and screen-reading programs.
"But a woman teacher who was trained in reading Braille was keen that I familiarize myself with the computer. So she took me in one afternoon break to show me what the computer monitor and keyboard was all about," she recalls.
However, it was only at university that she really began to successfully use the computer. "Even then the programs were not sophisticated enough. I had to start with a rather old version that was available at the library. It was such a hassle. Because the program was in DOS and the screen reader could not read graphics, I had to enlist help from sighted people.
"As you can imagine, this was not only a very tedious affair but also demanding on the other students. Although they were willing, they couldn't afford the time owing to their own assignment schedules and target dates," says Sumitha with a sigh.
Eventually, Sumitha managed to get a benefactor to donate a PC for her which was equipped with a screen reader and synthesizer. "It helped me enhance my assignments and meet deadlines which left my sighted lecturers impressed. I felt I was treated with more respect than usual by everyone as a result," quips the Mass Communications graduate.
Sumitha currently works as an instructor for the Malaysian Association for the Blind in Kuala Lumpur where her many responsibilities include equipping the blind with social and employment skills. Though her eyesight continues to deteriorate and she may go totally blind when older, the tenacious Sumitha now aims to initiate a program to help blind women get on the Net.
Computers help make printed material more accessible and reader-friendly to the visually impaired. "Word processors effectively eliminate the problem of errors the blind encounter in a conventional typewriter, which often leaves us no choice but to turn to the sighted for help. But with computers we have a better chance to do this ourselves. We can write, retrieve information, record and even print them out independently," says Sumitha. Scanners can also be used to convert printed material into Braille through Braille embossers.
"The Internet provides the blind and sighted persons with a powerful medium besides Braille to interact, communicate and collaborate with each other," explains Sumitha.
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