A different way of seeing and studying

30/08/2017

More than 500 Uruguayan primary and secondary education books have already been digitized and are available online so the visually impaired can continue their studies and remain within the formal education system. The initiative is part of the first Accessible Digital Library created within the framework of the Marrakesh Treaty. This library is an initiative of Uruguay’s National Union of the Blind (UNCU) and the University of the Republic of Uruguay, and has received funding from the FRIDA project supported by the IDRC, Canada.

According to Gabriel Soto, President of UNCU and leader of the project, the library created this system and makes digitized books available online to encourage the reinsertion and permanence of all visually impaired people within the formal education system, thus guaranteeing equal opportunities.

In Uruguay, average secondary education dropout rates among the visually impaired is more than 78%, only 20% of this population completes their secondary education, and barely 12% go on to pursue third-level and/or university education.

One of the main reasons for this dropout rate is the limited availability of study materials in braille, audio or electronic support for students with visual impairments.

Soto acknowledged that FRIDA’s support allowed him to realize “this dream.”

What is the Uruguayan Accessible Digital Library and what is the story behind the initiative?

The Library was born out of an alliance between Uruguay’s National Union of the Blind (UNCU) and the University of the Republic (UDELAR), through the Center of Open and Accessible Educational Resources (Núcleo REAA), with the goal of developing the first Accessible Digital Library under the Marrakesh Treaty. This alliance focused on facilitating access to textbooks in accessible formats for the visually impaired.

The library was developed using a system for digitizing books, adapting them and making them available online through a repository of books and other accessible materials, and is part of the COLIBRI Institutional Repository of the University of the Republic of Uruguay.

How does BIDYA work?

BIDYA is a digital library which any person with a disability can access with a username and password we provide to all interested parties protected by the Marrakesh Treaty. There, they will find educational materials classified in different categories, along with their corresponding data.

What tools will BIDYA offer the visually impaired?

The library will offer primary, secondary and tertiary level educational texts in accessible formats, so people can choose the format they prefer: they can either use the digital format or adapt it to braille, audio or macro-type.

Who can access the Library?

All persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled, as specified in the Marrakesh Treaty. Access to the Library is free.

What impact can the project have among visually impaired students?

The Library can have a major impact. We want young students who are visually impaired to be able to access their textbooks just as their peers do, and thus have the chance to complete their curricular subjects without the additional difficulty of the lack of available study materials as a barrier for continuing their education.

What has your experience with FRIDA been like?

Our work with FRIDA has been outstanding. In addition to the program’s financial support which allowed us to realize this dream of an Accessible Digital Library, the human interaction and guidance we received for developing this project gave us the possibility of strengthening an area we had not previously been able to address due to a lack of support. It allowed us to bring down to earth and materialize this idea we’d had for years.

We recommend working with FRIDA, as it opens new horizons to develop projects that would otherwise be difficult to consolidate.

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