Among the ICT Accessibility awareness activities organised by FITA, information sessions are among the most regular and effective initiatives. Sessions are held at least monthly and address different needs and objectives depending on the specific audiences.
On 18th April, students following the course titled ‘Including Students with Visual Impairment’ from the Department for Inclusion and Access to Learning, within the University of Malta, participated in one such information session, at the ADVICE lab within FITA.
Disability studies emerged as a growing area of academic research and professional education across much of the Western world in the 1970s and has continued to expand into the 21st century. The International Year of Disabled People in 1981 raised disability as a human rights issue in the global public discourse. The rise of the contemporary disability movement in the latter decades of the 20th century, and the vocal demand for relevant curricula by disabled people and their allies, lent weight to the legitimacy of the new discipline.
The growing presence of disabled people in society, in particular their presence in the community following centuries of institutionalisation, has further contributed to an awareness of the responsibilities of educational institutions to disabled citizens. At the same time, the limitations of medical and individual pathology models of disability, in both explaining the situation of disabled people and enabling their full citizenship, have resulted in the flowering of new explanatory paradigms such as the social model.
This approach professes that disability is induced by inflexible policies and structures that enforce stereotypes, whereby if you do not conform, you are ostracised and prevented from functioning as part of society. Ensuring accessibility therefore reduces or removes the disability (as opposed to the impairment). Apart from this background, FITA also delivered an overview of the Maltese disability sector, and the different disability NGOs of blind persons. Mr. Joe Cauchi, President of ADVICE demonstrated the use of the Humanware Connect 12 Android tablet, as well as the C-Pen, which reads out typed text for people with Dyslexia and other reading difficulties.
Disability studies has impacted on the research agendas of many other disciplines. Starting with the social sciences and the humanities, disability studies has also been increasingly taken on board by the applied sciences such as architecture, design, engineering and, more recently, medicine and pure science. In more practical terms, through the demos delivered by FITA, the students could appreciate the benefits and limitations of technology when used to circumvent accessibility related difficulties. For example, although screen reading software is very useful when used to access the text shown on websites, it was pointed out that not all online Maltese newspapers are accessible. Mr. Stanley Debono, FITA CEO, pointed out that while the Equal Opportunities Act (EOA) safeguards the rights of disabled persons against discrimination , it is disabled persons themselves and NGOs who must file complaints and seek to enforce this law, with the help provided by the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability.
The course being followed by the students, seeks to provide a detailed insight into the world of persons with visual impairment and will cover issues dealing with the definition of blindness, its implications for development, its effects on the family, schooling, work and community life. It specifically deals with the inclusion of students with visual impairment in ordinary schools backed by a transdisciplinary team which is the core for community based instruction. Mr. Joseph Stafrace and Mr. Michael Debattista, who are tutors with a vision impairment, praised ADVICE and FITA for providing them with the possibility of trying out and comparing different assistive technology products. Students could try technology first hand, learn about speech synthesis and OCR as well as appreciate how a product can prove beneficial to different individuals, depending on the way it is used or how it is combined with other products as part of a solution.
For more information please contact FITA at firstname.lastname@example.org
Technical Sources: Australian Journal of Human Rights, 2009. What’s so ‘critical’ about critical disability studies? by Helen Meekosha and Russell Shuttleworth