promotION of continuing professional development and creatION of accessible information and education environments through ICT's for people with visual impairments in Armenia
What were the main aims of the initiative?
This example focuses on a training seminar and a workshop held in Armenia in the IT centre for persons with visual impairments, established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). These events brought together educational decision-makers, representatives from teacher training and inclusive education institutions and specialists from medical and pedagogical centres to promote continuing professional development and support for educators to create accessible information and education environments for people with visual impairments.
This project’s main purpose is to promote inclusive policies, continuing professional development, and support for educators, as well as to create accessible information and education environments through ICTs for people with visual impairments.
Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.
The IT centre for persons with visual impairments was established in Yerevan (Republic of Armenia) within the partnership project of UNESCO IITE and ITU.
The centre was equipped with standard and specialised hardware and software for people with visual disabilities. The centre’s technological infrastructure includes typical workplaces equipped with standard and specialised hardware and software for two groups of users: (1) blind people; and (2) partially sighted people. The centre is not only a platform for providing access to knowledge and information for people with visual impairments, but has also become а place for teacher training, networking and experience sharing among specialists.
The project envisaged the development of instruction and support materials on ICTs and accessibility for policy- and decision-makers, as well as for IT and educational specialists involved in teaching and the social rehabilitation of people with visual impairments.
A training seminar, ‘ICTs for inclusive education’, and a workshop, ‘Practical use of ICTs in education of visually impaired persons’, were held on 18–21 June 2012 in Yerevan, Armenia in the framework of an IITE and UNICEF-Armenia joint project. The training seminar and the workshop brought together about 40 educational decision-makers and representatives from teacher training and inclusive education institutions, as well as specialists from medical and pedagogical centres.
What issues/challenges does the example address?
The development of modern society is characterised by the increasing role of knowledge, information and education that tends to be a vital condition for personality formation and, consequently, for successful society development in general.
Modern information technologies offer people with disabilities unique possibilities for accessing information and expressing their communication and cognitive needs. At the same time, insufficient access to these technologies creates new barriers, causing more discrimination and social exclusion. Therefore, users with visual impairments need specialised equipment and software to convert text into an alternative audio format. Specialised devices, such as screen readers, Braille displays and printers, and technologies for text zooming and colour contrast enhancement, can be used for this purpose.
If modern ICTs do not meet user requirements and information is presented in inaccessible formats, then industrialised society will be considered a threat for such people. Moreover, the digital gap will tend to cause further social repression. A democratic society should create approaches to remove educational obstacles, and provide the essential conditions for wider access to education for all.
Experience from around the world shows that the accessibility challenge for people with disabilities could be resolved by carrying out complex programmes on meeting user needs by means of adapting information resources and technologies. Thus, one of the key lines of activity is to establish national resource centres aimed at in-depth support for improving educational and information environments.
How was the Initiative implemented?
During the project’s initial stage, ITU and IITE received official governmental support from Armenia and established a working group of specialists from the Armenian National Commission for UNESCO, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Social Affairs, which manages project implementation at the national level. This included the following steps:
1. Establishment of an IT centre for persons with visual impairments, equipped with standard and specialised hardware and software for people with visual disabilities (2010–2011).
During the project’s first stage, the working group chose the premises for the IT centre. IITE developed the requirements for the buildings and the surrounding area and submitted them to the working group specialists.
After approval of the building and the necessary repairs, the technological infrastructure and communications were established. The IT centre infrastructure includes typical workplaces equipped with standard and specialised hardware and software for blind and partially sighted people.
2. Development and dissemination of instructional and support materials for different user groups on ICTs and accessibility. This included policy and decision-makers for IT, educational specialists and end users.
IITE developed a specialised training course on ICT use in education and the social rehabilitation of people with disabilities. The content of the training course included: methodological recommendations and learning materials on general issues of standard personal computer applications; operating systems (Windows 7) and their accessibility functionality; the main software application and its accessibility functionality; specialised hardware and software; and mobile technologies for people with visual impairments.
3. Strengthening national capacities on promoting inclusive policies and creating an accessible information environment. This was planned through raising professional competencies and establishing a professional network for promoting access to information and education resources by means of ICTs for people with visual impairments.
The training seminar was held in June 2012 in the established IT centre in Yerevan, to introduce special features and the main ICT application techniques in education and the social rehabilitation of people with visual impairments. The materials on ICT use for users with visual impairments, developed by IITE in co-operation with the REHACOMP Institute, were presented at the seminar.
What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?
At the training seminar, ‘ICTs for inclusive education’, the participants discussed a broad range of issues related to the integration of assistive technologies into the educational practices of learners with visual, hearing, intellectual, speech and motor impairments. The training programme covered both policy and practice issues with many international good practice examples, and included discussion topics, references to research, and educational content for learning and for teacher education.
The main goal of the ‘Practical use of ICTs in the education of visually impaired persons’ workshop was to raise participants’ awareness and develop their professional skills and competencies in the practical application of modern technologies to meet the educational needs of learners with visual impairments. Representatives from educational, social and IT service organisations, including special schools and inclusive education settings, teacher training institutions, non-profit and non-governmental organisations, took part in the event. UNESCO IITE experts provided practical training and shared relevant information on standard and specialised software and equipment for blind and partially sighted users.
Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?
The evaluation framework aimed to confirm the main project activities’ direction and level of progress. This focused on building full awareness of all stakeholders’ requirements and expectations throughout project activities.
The main stakeholders were represented by the three categories of end users, which included people with disabilities, teachers/tutors and social rehabilitation specialists working with them, and policy-makers.
The evaluation strategy included an analysis of information on stakeholders’ requirements, interests and perspectives on the project process and outcomes. This was realised through focus groups and questionnaires, as well as discussions at the workshops for stakeholders, which were organised during the project implementation.
The main request from all three groups of stakeholders was to provide free and open access to the technological infrastructure and create a website with available training and information resources on ICT for people with disabilities. The Armenian specialists prepared and hosted such a website. The IT centre provides free access to technologies and information resources for all people with visual impairments in Armenia and users can get free internet access.
Another request from stakeholders (mostly the end users with visual impairments) was to provide them with an opportunity to work in their native language. Initially, the project included materials in both English and Russian. Following this request, the Armenian language was integrated into JAWS (software for people with visual impairments). This made it possible for users to access information resources in Armenian.
In general, all stakeholders, including teachers and policy-makers, greatly appreciated the project.
Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?
Keeping in mind the results of both training sessions, it is evident that participants are particularly interested in choosing and adapting ICTs to include various groups of learners with special needs in education (mostly through low-cost technologies) and in the practical issues of integrating ICT into the curriculum. UNESCO IITE has therefore suggested launching a joint pilot project in several inclusive educational settings in Armenia. The project’s main aims would be to ascertain the educational needs of learners with special needs, and choose and adopt appropriate ICT tools and integrate them into the curriculum. Another focus of the joint project could be the development of a distance education system (as a part of inclusive education). The seminar participants emphasised the relevance of this issue, which is based on an expectation that learners with special needs will be involved in inclusive education as much as possible. Also, the project should aim to establish a further resource centre of ICTs for inclusive education and equip it with different kinds of hardware and software.
Another activity within this initiative is the establishment of a resource centre in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. This IT centre will officially open in December 2015 and will be equipped with specialised hardware and software for people with visual and motor impairments. UNESCO IITE will organise a training seminar for Kyrgyz educators in December 2015. It will provide support with input from international experts and make recommendations regarding developments for assessing educational needs and choosing technologies, as well as methodological support for ICT integration. It will also provide consultations/training for educational staff on the application of ICT tools for inclusive education.
What are the main learning points?
The attendees at both training events, especially at the practical workshop, represented a mix of various specialists: policy-makers, methodologists and practitioners. The participants had different skill levels in relation to: (1) basic ICT literacy; (2) knowledge and practical skills in the application of specialised hardware and software. Moreover, specialists with visual impairments took part in the practical workshop, as well as educators who do not have visual impairments but who work with users with visual impairments. The training programme included a set of practical exercises with the use of specialised hard and software. For this reason, the trainer had to divide participants into smaller groups while conducting the practical training. In future, it would be better to invite more homogeneous groups of participants in order to meet the training’s targeted goals.
Are there further information about supporting materials?