Benetech’s Philippines Outreach Team spearheads education and inclusion initiatives for blind and low-vision residents
“In order to succeed, teach not only the child but the village and the whole community.” This philosophy has been a guiding light for Aggie Angeles, who leads Benetech’s efforts in the Philippines to provide accessible reading material for blind and low-vision Filipinos through Bookshare, a global library of accessible ebooks for people with reading barriers.
The Philippines is an archipelago composed of 7,107 islands and is considered one of the fifty low-middle income countries by the World Bank. Statistics show that there are approximately 500,000 blind and low vision Filipinos, many of whom have low socioeconomic status and do not have access to learning resources and technology. Without a means to use assistive tools to get an education and access to learning resources, the chance for upward mobility is very limited.
Bookshare Corners Help Bridge Access Gaps
As a solution to this challenge, Benetech launched its first Bookshare Corner in the Rizal Provincial library, two hours outside of Manila, with laptops and desktop computers donated by the Rotary Club. People can visit the Bookshare Corner and learn about our services. Anyone can enjoy the demo books, which are freely available to all readers. Those with visual impairments and other qualifying reading barriers can register to access the full collection of copyrighted content through the Bookshare Corner. In this way, the Bookshare Corners function to educate the wider community, as well as provide a point of access for blind and low-vision Filipinos without personal technology.
Aggie emphasizes the importance of full community outreach: “We do not just focus on the blind child, but the whole environment must understand them.” Many people do not know that accessible ebooks with audio are a resource available to people with visual impairments, let alone that they can be accessed affordably through programs like Bookshare. When they learn about Bookshare, members of the community become advocates who can help spread the word to their fellow community members that are blind or have low vision so they may benefit from access to Bookshare’s vast collection.
With support from the Philippines Department of Education Region IV-B MIMAROPA Regional Library Division covering the Islands of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan, the MIMAROPA, Bookshare Corners have become a model for expanding access to learning materials for blind and low-vision Filipinos – even in the most remote communities with weak internet connectivity. This year, coinciding with Global Accessibility Awareness Day, in partnership with the Department of Education South West Philippines Regional Division, Bookshare launched Bookshare Corners in 33 division libraries and school libraries on off-grid islands.
The schools committed to raising awareness through accessibility and inclusion projects in their communities, using the Bookshare Corner as an anchor. Says Aggie, “Our vision is to have Bookshare Corners in most of the regional division libraries in the country and spread awareness of how technology supports accessibility and inclusive learning and helps transform lives.”
Community Partners Pitch In to Support Mobile Technology Access
In addition to establishing Bookshare Corners, the Bookshare Philippines team is working to get personal technology in the hands of low-income students. Recently, the Philippine Blind Union and Free the Children Japan have donated 150 mobile phones for low-income blind students all over the Philippines. These phones will be set up with Bookshare accounts through member sponsorship funding from local chapters of the Rotary Club, Junior Chamber International and other private donors. This collaboration of civic organizations, persons with disabilities, and government agencies shows the positive impact when a community comes together to advance a cause.