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Web Sight- 0fftrack India Today- By Nidhi Taparia Rathi

Date on which testimonial was published:
30 Sep 2002

Arti Bubna is having a tough lecture. The 24-year-old teacher is trying to teach visually impaired Nikita Vaid, 17, the concept of a “menu bar” on a computer. She tries for the fifth time, “Imagine the menu of a restaurant that lists food. The ‘menu bar’ on the computer is just like that.” But Nikita is not yet clear. “So why do other menus drop down from it?” A two-hour lesson later, Nikita finally understands the concept of a menu bar. What makes this lesson even more extraordinary is that Bubna herself is blind.

Bubna is the brain behind the two-year-old Voice Vision Computer Training Institute in Mumbai’s western suburb, Goregaon. The institute imparts basic computer skills like how to use the computer, surf the Net, design web pages and also use codes in different computer languages for the visually impaired. Twenty-five students and two years later Bubna still encounters unique obstacles. “It is tough to explain how the screen of a computer looks or to help students visualise radio-buttons, menu bars and combo-boxes on screen. However, the real difficulty lies in teaching them simple concepts like the ‘default’ commands and settings that most people take for granted.”

Bubna is self-taught as she has mastered the computer on an online course at the Hadley School for the Blind in the US and after hours of practice. However, what Bubna counts bigger than her personal achievement is her ability to motivate other visually impaired students in the information age and making them employable.

Bubna’s own story is one of sheer determination. Born with a cataract in her eyes, Bubna lost her eyesight completely by the time she was 20. Like a normal student, she knocked on the doors of many private computer institutes. “I was refused by all of them because they thought a blind could not possibly learn computers. Enrolling in an online course was not enough. Neither was practice. “The computer and the Internet are visual media. It is tough to understand them if you have not seen them.” Many months later, however, she discovered jaws-a software, that reads out everything on the computer screen.

Demonstrating the software, Bubna explains, “Every time, a key is touched, it gives a voice feedback. Press the ‘Enter’ key and the computer will read out ‘Enter’. It also enables spelling and grammar check and spells out difficult words and changes the tone of its voice to a high pitch when it comes across a capital letter.” Thus, armed with jaws, she began to tinker with Windows programs, browsers and finally started surfing the Net.

Apart from making her employable, the computers also seem to have given her social life an upward spin. “Newspapers are now accessible over the Internet and I don’t have to wait for people to read them out to me. I am no longer left out of a conversation because I am now better aware of what is happening around me.” The idea is further established by her students. For instance, Vaid, a Class XI student, now believes that she can help her father in his leather business. She is thrilled by the prospect of using computers like all her friends. “I don’t feel left out or different any longer.” Similarly, for physiotherapist Benshir Arokhia Raja, 28, who suffers from retina pigmentation, the Net was the only resort to further studies. Says Raja: “I am currently practising on a friend’s machine. But I am hoping to be able to afford the jaws software and use my computer ability to treat my patients.

Exemplifying the success of the institute is Mohammad Ahtesham. Working as purchase manager in an advertising agency, he led his own team in developing a new software. Ahtesham today stands at par with his colleagues and has found many professional gains from the course. Bubna claims her institute is not a money-making venture but is propelled by a sense of duty to help her own kind. “I attend to each and every student personally and only when he finishes one lesson do I start the next lesson. What is more, there is no time limit for the course.” She charges Rs 5,000 per course and is also a dealer for jaws. “Once the students have finished learning how to compute, from the institute, I sell them the software package.” At Rs 50,000 for each copy of the software, most students cannot afford it. But Bubna has an easy mantra for them. “Use demo copies to practise and land jobs. Then save enough to buy the software.”

Bubna’s plans: “A three-or-four-story building with classes on each floor, teaching the blind how to operate a computer and surf the Internet.” Maybe her students won’t get to the Silicon Valley anytime soon, but they are certainly making a promising start.

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