15-year-old Haroon Kareem reportedly the first visually impaired student used a laptop to write the Kerala state board exams, without scribes. Let us find how he achieved success and created history using assistive technology which is also helpful for other visually impaired students.
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About Haroon Kareem
- Haroon Kareem was born with a total visual impairment.
- Blindness made school an isolating experience for him and limited his access to classroom resources.
- Until 2017, Haroon Kareem studied in a school for the blind.
- He had his first experience in a ‘normal’ school, in std Eight.
- He was put among 40 students. Teachers were ill-equipped to teach a student with visual impairment.
- From education in a disability-unfriendly education system, Haroon Kareem learned that technology could help and transform the lives of students like him.
- After class eight, Haroon Kareem searched for technological solutions.
- He realised that if he types notes on his laptop, his teachers would be able to read and correct them.
- He used screen-reader applications that are built for persons with visual impairment.
- Screen-reader applications work with Microsoft Windows OS and read out everything displayed on the screen, including icons, menus, symbols, etc.
- To navigate his laptop Haroon Kareem uses NVDA and Linux-based ORCA(a popular screen-reader).
- Screen-reader apps helped Haroon to an extent, but he was determined to be 100% independent in his academic journey.
- The screen-reader apps were limited to reading English, and could not read the symbols and signs used in Mathematics and General Science. This proved the difficulty in these two subjects.
- Once he met Ram Kamal, who ran Chakshumathi, a non-profit based in Thiruvananthapuram that helps disabled children.
- Haroon attended an ‘Eyesfree camp’ organised by Chakshumathi where he was introduced to an online library called Bookshare for the blind.
- Haroon is reportedly the first student to use assistive technology to write the Kerala state board exams, without scribes.
- In order to secure permission for writing the exam using a laptop, he had to convince the Kerala government.
- Haroon Kareem is the first student to write his Kerala state board exam using assistive technology.
Bookshare is an international community which gives free access to books. “In these textbooks, everything is read out including diagrams, tables, images and footnotes. They even mark page numbers and paragraph numbers and allow you to bookmark pages.
Bookshare provides Ebooks for people with reading barriers and makes reading easier. People with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading barriers can customise their experience to suit their learning style and find virtually any book they need for school, work, or the joy of reading. Find more about Bookshare
Haroon Kareem Says
“On my first day of school – June 5 – there was quiz contest for World Environment Day. I participated in the written quiz with the help of a scribe. Usually, toppers of the school are appointed as scribes. I won the quiz that day but instantly felt bad as I overheard three students and a teacher credit my win to my scribe. That is when I realised the kind of discrimination students like me face,”
“The teachers would not check my notebooks because they didn’t know the Braille script. Nobody asked me to submit notes or bothered to correct me. When I pointed this out to a few seniors with visual impairment, they told me to relax. They told me it didn’t matter if I engaged with the class or did my homework. Whatever I do, the school will allow me to pass, they said. And this situation was simply not acceptable to me,”
“After getting permission from the school, I started taking notes on my laptop. I would record textbooks by making my friends read out chapters. This changed things for me. I was no longer isolated from a typical classroom experience. My classmates would refer to my notes. Teachers began correcting and marking my homework which I printed out and submitted. I solved a tiny bit of my problems,” he shares.
“We need a tech revolution in blind schools in the state. I studied in one myself till class 7. While there is a lot of focus on arts and music, children are not taught mathematics and science beyond a point as the school is ill-equipped to do so. And the worst part is we don’t even know what we are missing, as we only interact, study and live with other students like us. It makes us more blind”
Haroon Kareem is really an inspiration to many visually impaired students. Let us hope that this will open doors for many other students with visual impairment to use assistive technology in their schools. Schools should help such students to use this technology.
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References: Haroon Kareem Facebook
Mathukutty P. V. is the founder of Simply Life Tips, a passionate Blogger, Content writer, Influencer, YouTuber. Lives with a notion “SIMPLE LIVING, CREATIVE THINKING”. Believe – “Sharing is caring.” “Learning never ends.”