Computer training for blind Pinoys gets boost from Microsoft

Software giant Microsoft has announced a partnership with ATRIEV (Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired) to help expand the local NGO’s computer science training program.

Microsoft YouthSpark program Coding for Accessibility aims to cultivate computer science skills among young people with visual impairment

Microsoft YouthSpark program Coding for Accessibility aims to cultivate computer science skills among young people with visual impairment

Through the “Coding for Accessibility” project, a Microsoft YouthSpark Program, the partnership aims to cultivate computer science skills among young people with visual impairment by providing a platform to grow IT skills sets and getting access to the latest technology tools and resources.

Microsoft will help expand ATRIEV’s Digital Literacy training curriculum to include courses like Introduction to Computer Science. A Trainers’ Training program will also be developed to groom at least 10 visually impaired participants who will be qualified as trainers by the end of the program.

Blind trained instructors will thereby teach all courses. With the subjects led by the blind for the blind, fundamental concepts can be better explained in the context of the students’ special learning needs.

Raul Cortez, director for corporate, external, and legal affairs (CELA) at Microsoft Philippines, said: “While access to education has generally improved, many persons with disabilities are unable to go to school. In many cases, poverty, and the absence of reasonable accommodation confine PWDs at home, with little opportunity to harness their innate skills. As a computer literacy tool, the Coding for Accessibility project responds to these needs and helps broaden the learning and employability horizon, especially for visually impaired Filipinos.”

The Coding for Accessibility project uses a phased approach, starting with digital literacy, followed by an introduction to computer science and web publishing to prepare the students for mainstream programming. The third phase involves one-on-one coaching and tutorials.

The program allows blind trained instructors to teach all courses. With the subjects led by the blind for the blind, fundamental concepts can be better explained in the context of the students’ special learning needs

The program allows blind trained instructors to teach all courses. With the subjects led by the blind for the blind, fundamental concepts can be better explained in the context of the students’ special learning needs

The project culminates with the first hackathon of the blind for the blind that challenges participants to use computer science to “hack” or make websites accessible to PWDs.

Expected participants include Coding for Accessibility students, whose participation is a requirement to complete the course, other ATRIEV students, university computer science students, students of special science high schools, and young IT programmers.

The hackathon will also be a forum for stakeholders to discuss how computer science can better respond to the call for web accessibility.

Tony Llanes, executive director of ATRIEV Philippines said: “ATRIEV is a pioneer in breaking down digital barriers and creating opportunities. With this project, we are taking a big leap towards our vision of being “the leading innovator and champion of computer education and equal access to opportunities for all persons with disabilities.”

Llanes is optimistic about this latest partnership with Microsoft. He explains, “ATRIEV and Microsoft YouthSpark dream the same dream. We both use information technology to improve the access of young people to opportunities, and improve their lives. ATRIEV will definitely benefit from Microsoft’s global expertise and resources. In turn, ATRIEV shares its field experience and local solutions to the challenges that persons with disabilities face every day.”

At the end of the Coding for Accessibility project, the Microsoft-ATRIEV partnership hopes to train 90 youth with visual impairment, 30 of whom will proceed to take formal IT courses in mainstream schools.

On July 22, 16 trainers completed customizing the Microsoft Digital Literacy module. They started training the first batch of digital literacy scholars on August 15.

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