The Miracle of Technology

Written by Michelle Gonsalves Saturday, 31 March 2012 17:56

Visually-impaired Guyanese lives his dream in Canada – Comes home to teach others like him how to cope

IMAGINE being born with great talent and intelligence, and having your dreams and aspirations amount to nothing because you were faced with a serious visual impediment, and could not expand your horizons. Sadly, this is the fate many children are currently facing in Third World countries.

Raj Tribhuwan knows this only too well. Facing blindness since he was a toddler living at Enmore, East Coast Demerara, he’s battled against the odds to be well educated and to live an independent life.

He migrated 25 years ago, and today, Tribhuwan, who now resides in Canada, is not only living the life he wanted, but is working to help other visually-impaired persons do the same.

Tribhuwan has become a leader in the community of visually-impaired persons in Ontario. He teaches Access Technology to visually-impaired Canadians, many of them migrants from all over the world, including from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but his heart has always been on the situation in Guyana.

He teamed up with local optician, Don Gomes when the latter was on a visit to Canada, and last week returned home to impart his knowledge, skills and experience to the local community of visually-impaired persons, thus impacting their circumstances.

According to statistics from the Guyana Society for the Blind, 120 legally blind persons are registered in the city. His first visit is to his old school, St. Roses High, where he was a student and later a teacher of guitar.

Raj Tribhuwan demonstrates the JAWS program to instructors from Linden and St. Roses Blind units at the St. Roses building recently.

The Raj Foundation, which he founded in Canada, is currently developing a project to install ten computers fully equipped with adaptive technology aids for the community of visually-impaired persons in Guyana. On this visit, Raj has come bearing one – a brand new Toshiba laptop equipped with JAWS software.

JAWS (Job Access With Speech) is a computer screen reader programme in Microsoft Windows that allows blind and visually-impaired users to read the screen. Produced by the Blind and Low-Vision Group of Freedom Scientific in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the USA, JAWS supports all versions of Windows released since Windows XP.

The programme typically retails for between US$895 and US$1000, depending on whether it is bought for the home or for professional use.

The JAWS Scripting Language allows the user to use programmes without standard Windows controls and those not designed for accessibility.

“Shockingly,” Tribhuwan said, “I learned (that) the St Roses facility and another in Linden are the only two for children in Guyana. Outside of these areas — and this includes Essequibo Coast, the Essequibo islands, the Hinterland and Berbice — there are no education units for visually impaired. Also, they are running without Internet access.”

The next stop is the Georgetown Society for the Blind, whose members are using laptops from the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) project. Those machines are reportedly equipped with the JAWS programme.

The way technology has altered Tribhuwan’s life is amazing. Living independently in Canada, he has equipped his personal space with the most up-to-date accessibility technology. For example, a hi-tech labelling system allows him to label items in his home, and to read them with a device similar to the one used to scan bar codes. He checks up on his health, using a talking blood-sugar reader and a talking blood pressure monitor. Other handy gadgets include a talking watch and a specially equipped phone.

In Tribhuwan’s words: “While living in Guyana and among the blind, it used to grieve my heart to witness, day after day, great talent and wit, aspirations and dreams boiled down to nothing. As a music instructor in the Blind Unit at the St. Roses High School, I had a firsthand and day-to-day look at the plight of blind students struggling to get a proper education among their sighted peers.

He remembers that there were times when students writing the CXC and GCE examinations had to wait for a volunteer to read the text books on cassette tapes, and then study the materials. Those who could at that time, he recalled, made their notes in Braille.

Then there was the group who never had the opportunity to attend a high school, and had to be content with going to what was referred to then as the ‘Blind Institute’. Like the group mentioned previously, it was the same type of struggle, but in a different way.

Tribhuwan continued, “At the Blind Institute, the blind adults possessed numerous skills and talents, but could not get the raw materials to work; and when little became available, the market was not created.”

Tribhuwan once resided in Suriname during his quest to find better opportunities. He said he encountered barriers of a different sort there. “There was a special school for the visually challenged, but one must be born a local to attend, I was told. The blind adults met twice a week for two-hour sessions, and were given a few pieces of raw material to make this and that; a cookie or two; some cheap drink; sang a song, and were locked away for the rest of the week, until the next time.”

When he migrated to Canada, he knew his first goal would be education. Exploring opportunities and possibilities, he got enrolled in school and involved with volunteer work with the visually challenged at the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind). His thoughts were on the group he left behind, and Tribhuwan vowed to one day make a difference.

So, with help of some friends and family members, he decided to create a non-profit organization. The Raj Tribhuwan Foundation was born in October 2009. For more info, visit www. the rajfoundation.com.

JAWS

JAWS was originally released in 1989 by Ted Henter, a former motorcycle racer who lost his sight in a 1978 automobile accident.

In 1985, Henter founded the Henter-Joyce Corporation in St. Petersburg, Florida with a US$180,000 investment from Bill Joyce. Joyce sold his interest in the company back to Henter sometime in 1990.

In April 2000, Henter-Joyce, Blazie Engineering, and Arkenstone, Inc. merged to form Freedom Scientific.

Last Updated on Saturday, 31 March 2012 18:08

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