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International Telecommunication Union
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The Blind of Ethiopia Gain Access to ICTs
ITU and UNESCO venture helps visually-impaired join Information Society

Geneva, 26 February 2003 — The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will establish a computer-training centre in Ethiopia to assist the blind and visually impaired community in Ethiopia to gain access to information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The two UN agencies will support the Adaptive Technology Centre for the Blind (ATCB), based in Addis Ababa, by training blind students, government employees and others to use computers equipped with adaptive devices such as voice synthesizers, magnifying hardware and software as well as Braille embossers, scanners and printers. The Centre will help raise awareness that blind and visually impaired people can fulfil their potential through the assistance of ICTs.

ITU and the local partner ATCB will provide the training equipment and software. UNESCO will supply training and curriculum development materials. The local partner, ATCB, will also make available administrative and professional staff and will provide the project office with the necessary facilities and transport. The project has a total cost of more than USD 70,000.

"ITU is committed to remove limitations on access to telecommunication facilities and services," said Brahima Sanou, Head of the ITU Regional Office for Africa. "This joint initiative gives a special group of citizens non-discriminatory access to the benefits and opportunities of the information society, and makes them equal competitors in academics and job performance."

"Through adaptive information technologies, unprecedented in Ethiopian society, the blind and visually-impaired will be empowered to play a more constructive role in overall national development," said Mamady Lamine Conde, Director and Resident Representative of UNESCO.

As part of the project, a course for trainers and students will be organized at five technical schools across Ethiopia. The project will charge a moderate training fee from clients who can afford it or their sponsors. Proceeds from sale of Braille publications such as training manuals, newspapers and other materials as well as fees and charges from individuals and organizations will also contribute to sustaining the initiative. In addition, periodic fund-raising events are expected to mobilize community support.

According to the US-based International Eye Foundation (IEF), there are about 45 million blind people in the world, the vast majority of them living in Africa. In Ethiopia, the latest census has revealed that there are well over five hundred thousand people who are totally blind. Although this project is not the first of its kind in Africa, it seeks to share its experience with other African countries in establishing a similar centre for this minority community. ITU and UNESCO have joined forces in an effort to increase the accessibility of ICTs to this target group.

For further information contact:

Mr Tilahun Kebede
ITU Regional Office for Africa
Tel. +251 1 514 977
Fax: +251 1 517 299

Mrs Asenath MPATWA
Coordinator, Africa Unit
ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau
Tel. +41 22 730 5430
Fax: +41 22 730 5484

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