Considering AT in Tanzania


By MATP Staff Member M. Catherine McAdam

I had an amazing journey – a three week trip to East Africa Tanzania. I brought my digital recorder and captured wonderful sounds of a tropical rain, moaning Map of Africa with Tanzania in redwildebeest migrating across the plain, tussling baby elephants, many birds and some traditional African music.  I had no idea that as a totally blind traveler this highly visual safari land would touch me so deeply.

One main reason I wanted to take this journey was to visit the Olkokola Vocational Training Center. Thirty students live on the site for 18 months and take up trades they can bring back to their communities. People with disabilities are often shunned in their villages. The school offers them dignity, awareness of others, trades, and a chance to be included in their communities.

Tailoring is done with peddle sewing machines as there is no electricity in many villages (we experienced several outages during the three weeks we were woman sitting behind sewing machine, turning wheel on side of machinethere.) Masonry is about shaping and molding bricks to be used for construction. The wood working craft is for building furniture with no screws or hardware, but extremely sturdy and well fitted. And, for the animals on the property there is a veterinary/agricultural class.  All four trades are done with no technology.

We brought some wearable magnifiers for a student to try who was having difficulty finding the exact groove where he was sawing wood. Language barriers and unclear task analysis made it difficult to communicate directly with the student, but with several trials he picked a head set magnifier to try. We discussed color contrast, lighting, and tactile options but again it was difficult to gage how much of this translated to any useful options.

I was keenly aware of how much my own life has been influenced by technology as I read books on my iPod and texted messages home.  Many people use cell phones, but not necessarily smart phones, and the language barriers are a key issue. Android 4.3 lists  Kiswahili support  and instant messaging but Swahili is not listed for I-devices. There are several dictionary apps, and bible translations across platforms. There is a notation that windows based software developed software for the Swahili language for windows 7.  It is not clear if the Android text to speech TalkBack will work for full support, but magnification features should work.

I’m guessing none of this would help the immediate need of the student carpenter and yet I found myself wondering about practical applications and wanting to know and do more. There are times it is important to step back and remember the basic needs of our worldwide disability members.

I will be spending some time looking at real life applications, outcomes of this training program and funding options to keep it going. A challenging question is how and if assistive technology could add to the dignity and independence of these students as they return home. Please let us know of your thoughts and suggestions!


What do you think? Let us know!