| Participants learn the use of educational tools at the workshop. Picture by Aranya Sen
From the Regional Braille Press publishing regular textbooks to computers with special attachments adapted to suit their needs, educational tools for the visually impaired have come a long way. But with the government insisting on mainstreaming special schools for handicapped children, the only problem area for the visually challenged remains mathematics. It was towards this end that the Society for the Visually Handicapped (SVH) held a workshop on Capacity Building for the Educators of Braille Mathematics Code of India recently.
The Code, developed by volunteer Braillists, was brought out during the Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week in 1995. A workshop on June 22 was a continuation of that exercise, to help visually-handicapped teachers, or those aspiring to be, implement the methods, using resource tools. The aim was to aid blind children fit into normal schools, and to assist students seeking employment after graduation.
The workshop, sponsored by the Lee Charitable Grant of the International Council for the Education of the People with Visual Impairment, had a dual purpose. One was the demonstration of some of the teaching aids, like beads and spoons, used to build basic mathematical concepts in children. The other was how to use the abacus in primary classes and to teach youngsters to write the answers in mathematical Braille code through the slate and stylus.
Among the 20-plus participants were Alecia Tundawala, possibly “the first blind woman to have passed both the State Level Eligibility Test and the National Eligibility Test”, required to become college-level teachers, and Bimal Ganguly, also visually impaired, an MA in English and now a teacher at a regular primary school in Park Circus.
Conducted by Rima Mukherjee a history lecturer at a college in Kidderpore and member of the Society, the workshop is one in a continuing exercise by the SVH to help the visually impaired integrate into the mainstream.
The Society was started in 1983 by a group of friends and professionals in the field. Now in its 20th year, the NGO comprises 32 members, over 50 “sighted and visually impaired volunteers”, and offers a plethora of services, from counselling to consultation, talking books to Braille training. Although reaching education to sightless citizens remains its aim, several activities concentrate on integrating the sightless into society, says Hena Basu of SVH.
Over the years, they have conducted workshops to teach Braille to sighted volunteers, sensitisation programmes for teachers, awareness programmes and publication of manuals.
The little things also make a difference — providing readership services, writers for exams, coaching for higher studies and distribution of white canes.