Recently, a group of six visually impaired people in Thimphu had gone to the Bank of Bhutan to apply for ATM and M-BoB services. But the bank did not accept their request because they could not sign. This has ignited an interesting discussion within the visually impaired community in Bhutan. I think the banks believe that all those who cannot sign are illiterate and hence, they can be irresponsible and vulnerable to theft and robbery. But not all the visually impaired people are illiterate. Everybody who has studied at Muenselling Institute in Khaling knows how to read and write, at least electronically or in braille. The only problem with them is that many of them do not have signatures just because they cannot sign. As a result, they are denied access to the online banking facilities which otherwise would make their lives much easier.
The 21st century is truly an era of technological revolutions. With the advent of advanced technology, our life today has certainly become more comfortable and meaningful than ever. Science is continuously pushing its boundaries into the world of unexplored mysteries and trying to demystify whatever that appears beneficial for us to understand. With the expansion of scientific thinking and innovations, I think the word ‘impossibility’ is soon going to be a thing of the past. I am blind but the advanced technology has enabled me to move comfortably along with other non-disabled people, be it in the office or at home so far. Now with the advent of smart phones, my life is now becoming even more comfortable as numerous applications are being designed to help the blind see right through their mobile phones.
You might have noticed that almost all devices with numeric keypads such as telephones, mobile handsets and remote controllers have a raised dot or a raised bar on number 5, but have you ever wondered why? It certainly has more meaning than just being part of the layout of the keypad/keyboard. In this article I will try to explain the purpose of this striking feature to the best of my knowledge.
If what we discussed and proposed during the consultative meeting with the World Bank team today is going to be implemented by Thimphu City Corporation, Thimphu will perhaps become Bhutan’s first ever accessible and inclusive city where persons with disabilities can enjoy greater independence. Today, almost all the public facilities such as sidewalks, public transport services, banks, hospitals, movie theaters and shopping complexes are not disabled-friendly and because of these barriers, we have not been able to fully participate in the public life. More importantly, the general attitude of the people towards persons with disabilities is still not as positive as it should be. As a result, many persons with disabilities are facing discriminations behind closed doors. For instance, Mr. Pema Tshering who is a physically handicapped person currently working in Simply Bhutan says he has been denied ride by taxi drivers on many occasions just because he cannot walk. But with the change in time, I think things are now beginning to fall in place. The consultative meeting held in the office of Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) today was initiated by the World Bank as part of its new project to make the public transport services within Thimphu city more accessible and friendly for persons with disabilities and I was fortunate to be part of the discussion.
I am sure you all would have been accessing various websites like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube from your mobile phones but have you noticed that the mobile versions of these websites can also be accessed from the computer? Since the mobile versions of dynamic websites are easy to access and can load fast, most of the visually impaired people around the world use the mobile versions of websites especially the social networking sites. One good reason why the visually impaired are more accustomed to using the mobile version of websites is because they contain less features and are more accessible for the users to navigate around. It makes the sites more accessible with JAWS, a screen-reading software used by blind users in the world. So, if you don’t have a smart phone and if you have slow internet connection, the following mobile versions of the social networking sites are recommended:
In September 2011, I was in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, as part of the 3-member delegation from Bhutan representing Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) in the first ever South Asian Disability Forum which was held from 19-21 Sept., 2011. On behalf of the team, I was given the opportunity to do a 10-minute presentation on the general living conditions of persons with disabilities in Bhutan. As I pulled the audience through my PowerPoint slides, I talked about how people with disabilities in Bhutan enjoy equal rights and justice in all aspects of life. I even cited the example of how the Royal Government of Bhutan provides equal opportunities to persons with disabilities for employment and scholarships as long as they are capable of competing with their non-disabled counterparts. I further justified this statement by saying that Bhutan is a close-knit society founded on basic Buddhist principles and philosophies because of which people in general are sympathetic and compassionate towards persons with disabilities, and hence, there is no noticeable social discrimination against them.
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I know many people still wonder how do persons with visual impairment access computers and mobile phones because one has to see what appears on the screen. A couple of years ago, I was chatting with one of my friends on WindowLife Messenger and suddenly she asked me, “who is typing for you?” She did not believe me when I told her that I was typing myself. I know she was quite hesitant to chat with me because she thought there was somebody else beside me to read her messages to me and type my responses to her on my behalf. Well, it’s normal for anybody who has not been with a visually impaired person for sometime to wonder how computers can be accessed without sight. But for my colleagues in the office and some close friends, it’s no longer a mystery.
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