Monday, October 18, 2010

Give Net access to the disabled

ICT has become extremely important to the visually impaired as it empowers their independence, liberating them to live a normal life and stay connected with the fast growing global village without borders. Below I would like to share my thoughts on the wish list to our Prime Minister as written by Anthony Thanasayan in his column Wheelpower in the Star Paper.

Thursday September 2, 2010


Help the disabled get on board the information super highway.

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak has invited Malaysians to share their ideas for Budget 2011 which is scheduled to be tabled in Parliament next month.

This news was music to the ears for Yam Tong Woo. Yam used to work as an automotive engineer before he lost his sight in January 2008 following a bacterial infection.

“Fortunately, it wasn’t the end of the road for me, thanks to Internet technology,” said Yam, 52.

“I hope our Prime Minister will seriously consider opening the doors wide for the disabled community so that we, too, can access the information super highway that is revolutionising thousands of lives every day.

“It will take a special and well thought-out budget to make IT accessible to all disabled Malaysians.”

Enabled: A screen reader allows the visually impaired to read text that is displayed on the computer screen, with the help of a speech synthesiser.

Yam who now volunteers his time to help the blind access the Internet through assistive devices and software programmes, laments the fact that money is always an issue.

The blind, for example, are not able to use a computer without a screen reader which can cost as much as RM4,000. What the gizmo does is that it allows the computer to read everything out loud. “A full subsidy for the special software will make it affordable to the blind who have no choice but to purchase a screen reader if they wish to get online,” said Yam.

The other key players are Internet service providers and telcos, said Yam. He added that although some of them do offer discounts for handicapped subscribers, the packages being offered to the able-bodied are far more attractive. Discounts for disabled subscribers often come with unfair limitations which curb their Internet usage rather than encourage it.

Yam pointed out that service providers and telcos should look into their packages for subscribers with disabilities, and stop at nothing in offering them the best.

“Years ago, a number of disabled societies came together and requested a flat rate of RM5 for disabled subscribers of the telephone, cellphone and Internet,” Yam disclosed.

“But these suggestions fell on deaf ears. It’s time to revive the idea and give the disabled easy access to IT, just like anyone else.”

It is not difficult to see why Yam feels so passionately about IT and its benefits to the disabled community. When Yam lost his sight, he had no one to turn to for help. His only friend and guide was the computer. By surfing the Net, he learnt about the cause of his blindness. He was not able to get much information from his doctors earlier.

More importantly, he got to know many wonderful stories from the blind, and how they learnt to cope with their disabilities. The information and knowledge helped him – and scores of others like him – to become more independent and confident.

By getting online, the blind and others with disabilities will have more opportunities to find jobs, including work that can be done from the home. Even a mobile phone can help a blind person know where he is when stuck in the middle of the street. Instead of relying on others to give them directions, technology can provide the blind with the answers at the touch of a button.

And there’s no end to finding new friends and keeping in touch with them via e-mail, getting to know what’s happening in town, and in the world – the possibilities are endless.

More challenging times ahead!

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