Traditionally, in many parts of the country, young blind or visually impaired people joined religious schools and most of them became well known scholars. They served as teachers and clergymen in religious institutions. Usually, they managed to become respected members of the society. Those blind people who lost their sight at old age and those who did not succeed in their religious education or did not join a school at all, were likely to lead a miserable life.
Following the introduction of western style education to Ethiopia in the early 20th century, the opening of modern schools gradually spread throughout the country. By and by, special schools for the blind began to appear here and there. Thus blind and visually impaired students were able to join these schools. As Braille became a medium of education and communication, the methodology of teaching blind and visually impaired students changed from the traditional one which usually was based on learning by heart what was taught by the teacher word by word. In the case of the religious schools, this method was not a serious disadvantage, since even the sighted students were required to memorize a lot of stuff in the religious teaching.
With the increasing number of blind and visually impaired students, the special schools were not enough to accommodate all those who wanted to join. Besides, the schools taught only elementary education. Hence, blind and visually impaired students had to join regular schools, but without any or sufficient learning facilities. Even the basic needs of slates, styluses and Braille paper could not be satisfied. In most cases, they had to learn by simply listening to what the teacher said in the class. This, of course, affected their performance and results
In the special schools for the blind, Braille books, writing equipment including slates, styluses, Braille paper, though not in sufficient quantity, Perkins or Braillers from the US and Braille writers from a few European countries could be available. The curriculum, in such schools embraced almost all the subjects that the sighted students learnt. But in the regular schools, due to lack of assistive materials and because of the fact that teachers did not have the necessary orientation to teach blind students, they had to drop math, physics, chemistry and even geography. This, of course, seriously restricted the number of the fields of study they could choose in the institutions of higher learning.
In highly developed countries, the introduction of new assistive devices and adaptive technology products is believed to have enabled blind and visually impaired people to compete with their sighted counterparts on somewhat equal basis both in the fields of education and in the labor market. The introduction of such devices and products to Ethiopia could of course improve the lot of blind people here. This has already begun and is bringing about positive results, though, to a very limited extent. So far, getting access to adaptive technology products or assistive devices and materials is far from satisfactory.
Besides the shortage of learning materials, equipment and devices, students in institutions of higher learning have to get their own invigilators to read exam questions and write down their answers. In most cases, they have to make payments to the readers provided they can afford. Besides, the readers usually, are not capable and as such may read questions or write answers wrongly leading to mistaken answers resulting in poor performances or results which may often entail dismissal.
Concerted effort of all stakeholders far and near, is needed to alleviate or overcome all the difficulties , problems and constraints faced by visually impaired persons whether in the field of education and professional training or getting employment and leading an enjoyable and successful life.
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Commercial Bank of Ethiopia
Arat Killo Branch
Account Name: Zena Wengel Ministry
Swift Code: CBETETAA
Account Number: 1000107926341
Zena Wengel Ministry
Kolfe Keranio Sub-city
P.O.Box 12279, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia