Above: Stephine Parbhoo works with screen reader programme JAWS which allows visually disabled persons to hear text that is displayed on the computer screen through a synthesised voice. Photos courtesy IGT.
For over 55 years, the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) has worked tirelessly to empower persons with disabilities through vocational rehabilitation, advocacy, research, and consultative services.
Persons with disabilities and the barriers they face can often go unnoticed by the general public. However, IGT, formerly GTECH, took notice of this institution through its After School Advantage Program. IGT formed a long-standing partnership with NCPD in 2005 and continues to work closely with NCPD by providing state-of-the-art devices and equipment to the NCPD information technology (IT) computer lab. The IT lab not only has a profound and positive impact on the lives of the trainees, but also the differently-abled community at large.
On May 9, NCPD received an upgrade of computer systems and software for its IT lab comprising of nine desktop computers, three headsets, an all-in-one printer, an iMac, a touch screen laptop, software, and six uninterrupted power supply devices.
Roger Bolai, IGT Country Manager, said that among the company’s core values is making “technical and human development issues in the countries that we operate in a major priority that contribute toward improving the opportunities of the more vulnerable in our societies.”
Mr. Bolai added, “IGT believes that providing communities with the tools for accessing knowledge and opportunities is an important element of societal advancement that is essential in this age of instant-social interaction.”
Dr. Beverly Beckles, Chief Executive Officer of NCPD, expressed her gratitude to Mr. Bolai and members of the IGT team for their “generous donation and enduring partnership through their After School Advantage Programme.”
The highly specialised equipment at the NCPD’s IT lab allows students to acquire vital information technology skills and navigate the internet without being constrained by their physical disabilities.
Foot mouses allow students to navigate a pointer with their feet if their upper body mobility is limited. Large print keyboards make it significantly easier for students with visual impairments to distinguish letters when typing. Speech recognition software that converts speech to text, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, greatly assist students who may have difficulty using a keyboard due to physical disabilities or dyslexia.
Former student, Renese, reflects on the impact of learning IT skills at the lab. “I am a paraplegic with limited mobility,” she said. “I was not born with my disability but acquired it.”
She explained that she entered NCPD and participated in a vocational rehabilitation programme that has “given me a new life.”
“I had no knowledge about computers and have limited use of my hands. Today I am a testimony to what happens at NCPD because of the numerous technological devices in the IT lab,” Renese added. “From voice to text to using the keyboard, it helped empower me to be as independent as possible and motivate others not to give up.”
“With IGT’s contributions, we can continue our work at NCPD in providing services for persons with special needs in our community,” said Dr. Beckles. “My staff and I stand firmly behind the vision and core values of NCPD in its application and spirit.”
The NCPD currently enrolls about 250 students, ages 14-55 with a wide range of disabilities. These include physical disabilities, autism, hearing and speech impairment, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, visual impairment, intellectual and learning disabilities, as well as mild mental and seizure disorders.
IGT made substantial donations of computer equipment and software-facilitating assistive learning technology to the NCPD’s IT lab in 2011 and 2013. Assistive technology refers to a device or tool that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of an individual with a disability, be it physical or mental.
Assistive learning technology is either hard to source locally or very expensive to acquire. However, through the generous donations made by IGT, NCPD now has a state-of-the-art computer lab outfitted with powerful learning software and advanced hardware to further enhance the learning ability and platform of its students.
The donations throughout the partnership between NCPD and IGT have removed financial strain and accessibility challenges, and allow students to acquire fundamental IT skills. This helps to better support and prepare the students for work or chosen vocational field by highlighting their abilities rather than their disabilities.
The NCPD also has a social enterprise business through which customers can contact them for customised products and services in the following: Dial-a-Ride (specialised transport services for persons with disabilities), custom woodwork, upholstering, industrial sewing, catering services, mobility aids, orthopaedic products, bookbinding and offset printing services, welding, and fabrication. Photo examples of their work can be found on their website.