Digital literacy program empowers blind and visually impaired students to learn, work, and lead independent lives
PALO ALTO, Calif. — October 14th, 2021 — Benetech, the leading software for social good nonprofit, today announced the launch of a digital literacy pilot in India to address the employment gap for people with visual impairments. The program, supported by the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, will help launch the digital transformation of 10 schools for the blind across India. By equipping the schools with the technology and training that they need to provide a digital-first experience, students not only get a quality education but also gain the digital literacy skills that are vital for employment and independent participation in society.
“Most schools for the blind and visually impaired in India rely on braille textbooks for education,” said Dr. Homiyar Mobedji, Bookshare Asia and Africa Program Manager. “While braille is important, if students graduate only able to read and write in braille, they are not well equipped to work or live in mainstream society. By providing these schools with the technology and knowledge to give students a digital-first education, we are empowering students to pursue undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, build careers, and live independently.”
“India has an estimated 62 million blind and visually impaired residents, the highest population in the world. To pursue a return on our mission to empower people to live fulfilling, independent, and productive lives, we are looking for opportunities to drive lasting impact,” said Susan Olivo, Executive Director of the Lavelle Fund for the Blind. “This pilot’s emphasis on transforming education systems will not only create opportunities for the students enrolled in the schools today but for students for generations to come.”
A core component to this digital transformation strategy is Benetech’s Bookshare initiative, an accessible ebook library for people with visual impairments and other reading barriers. Bookshare provides texts in digital accessible formats, including electronic braille, large print, and audio. Funding for this pilot will enable the addition of numerous, locally relevant titles to Bookshare India’s collection of accessible books. Currently, Benetech has over 700,000 titles available in India, in multiple local Indian languages, including all materials for 12 state primary and secondary school curricula.
The Lavelle Fund for the blind, which supports projects in the greater New York area as well as globally, has played an integral role in expanding Bookshare’s impact in both the US and India. The Lavelle fund was an early backer of Bookshare, supporting an outreach campaign for visually impaired students in New York, which ultimately paved the way for Benetech’s first major award from the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, which enables Benetech to operate at scale in the United States. Other Bookshare programs that the organization has funded have included prototyping Bookshare’s MP3 format, and outreach and membership support for visually impaired adults in New York.
“The huge momentum that we are seeing in India, is a testament to the continued support that we’ve received from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind,” said Brad Turner, Vice President and General Manager of Global Education and Literacy at Bookshare. “Their partnership enabled Benetech to establish a strong Bookshare team in India who have built relationships with important local organizations, developed a collection of culturally relevant books in local languages, and conduct membership outreach and training. In the past 5 years, library membership has more than doubled to empower 20,000 members. As our work continues, we only expect that growth to accelerate.”
Benetech is a nonprofit dedicated to reducing social and economic inequity in partnership with the communities that we serve through software for social good. Benetech’s initiatives are transforming how students, jobseekers, and older adults across the globe read, learn, and work. Benetech believes that access to information is a human right, and no person should encounter barriers to education, literacy, or employment due to differences or disability. Visit www.benetech.org
About the Lavelle Fund for the Blind
The Lavelle Fund is a charitable grant-making foundation dedicated primarily to supporting programs that help individuals who are blind or visually impaired live independent and productive lives. The Lavelle Fund primarily concentrates its giving in the areas of Medical Eye Care, Vision Rehabilitation & Resources, and Education. Visit www.lavellefund.org