Increasing Access to Health Information for the Visually Impaired through ICTs
On March 4-6, I had the opportunity to travel to Chittagong, the 2nd city of Bangladesh, to visit a local NGO called Young People in Social Action (YPSA). YPSA provides a range of health and other social services for diverse groups of people, including the disabled, particularly those who are visually impaired who, at 3 million people, make up almost 21% of the Bangladeshi population. As part of this effort, YPSA, with support from donors and government, works with the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) to make information and communication technology (ICT) accessible to all types of people, including those who are unable read. In this way, YPSA and DAISY support building the capacity of visually impaired persons by increasing the amount information available to the blind (and illiterate) using ICT.
A group of visually impaired university graduates, who used the Braille system to achieve their degree, are working to help other visually impaired persons who may not even be Braille literate and as a result have no access to health information. Mr. Vashkar Bhattcharia leads the DAISY team of visually impaired, who are using special software to read and to write on computers using the common keyboard. This group dedicates time to read health information, especially for HIV/AIDS, adolescent reproductive health, and maternal and child health (which are particularly important for visually impaired young people) and translate the health information – available and approved content - from digital reading to audio form using computers and other necessary technology. These are called “digital talking books.” Usually, local languages and dialects are used to help the visually impaired persons to understand correctly. The final product is CDs of talking books, which they distribute all over the country to different organizations and institutes that work with the visually-impaired.
Mr. Vashkar, the team leader emphasizes the importance of talking books for the girls who are even more vulnerable and marginalized by their disability. So far, YPSA produced 100 digital talking books on health and social issues, including government policies to raise awareness of disabled people. Meanwhile, Mr. Vashkar met with the Prime Minister Shaik Hasina of Bangladesh with his plan on how to make the Digital Bangladesh plan (a government initiative) successful and meaningful for everyone.
It was an amazing experience to see ICT being used by the visually impaired to improve the health of other visually impaired persons. Going forward, the organization plans to provide mHealth services to disabled people over software-enabled cellular phones; however, the funding and resources have yet to be mobilized for this idea.