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In January 2011 we announced a new pilot project at the University of Zimbabwe to support library users with visual disabilities using FOSS accessibility tools (read the news story here). They have made some impressive progress since then - here is an update from project staff D. Musemburi and T. Mataranyika.
The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Library has managed to market their FOSS Project both within the UZ community and also the Zimbabwean community at large, with the project exhibited at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) in May in Bulawayo.
The project was also presented to stakeholders already dealing with visually impaired people including Dean of Students at the University of Zimbabwe, the Dorothy Duncan Library for the Blind (Harare), the UZ Disability Resource Centre and the Albino Association of Zimbabwe.
Training has been conducted for all library staff who deal directly with users. The focus of the training was on educating by way of unveiling the AccessApps tools. Hands on sessions were conducted where library staff had the opportunity to explore and use the applications. The training ended with discussions to do with implementation of the project in the library. Overall the Project was accepted with overwhelming enthusiasm by library staff as it was seen as an opportunity to enhance our information services.
Training has also been conducted with a total of 20 visually impaired students. Networks were created by these students thus how the project came to be popular amongst the student community. We are seeking to make this training a permanent feature of the UZ calendar, during orientation week at the start of the academic year.
The UZ library considered it necessary to promote this project outside the UZ parameters. This was after the realization that most information centers in Zimbabwe could not afford the screen reading software available on the market (JAWS). Wide consultations with the above mentioned stakeholders offering services to visually impaired people were carried out and it thus became clear that UZ library had a mandate of popularizing and installing this free Open Source Software at a national level.
The project was promoted at an international level when it was exhibited at the ZITF. Our experience at this international trade fair was that many institutions were in dire need of this software. It is our hope therefore that we would have enough capacity to meet with demand at a national level.