Driving Digital Inclusion Through Technology, Empathy and Partnerships

Teachers with visual impairment in Tamil Nadu, India embrace digital literacy to provide education to sighted students.
Topics in this article

Empathy must be the thread that connects innovation and technology. The strength of an organization or society is reflected in the opportunities it creates for the underserved, those who are overlooked and can easily be excluded. It was this idea which led to a Dell Technologies program to support 1,000 visually impaired government schoolteachers across the state of Tamil Nadu, India.

Education is a key focus area for Dell Technologies’ Progress Made Real ambitious goal to use our technology and scale to advance health, education and economic opportunity initiatives to deliver enduring results for one billion people by 2030.

In 2019, we hosted one of our Dell Technologies Policy Hacks in India with the goal of creating a platform for educators to address the biggest challenges they face every day and explore how technology can help solve for them. The winning idea was presented by our longstanding non-profit partner HOPE foundation with K. Suresh, a visually impaired schoolteacher. Suresh put forward a digital inclusion program for teachers with visual impairment to address the challenges they face in teaching by providing access to level-based curriculum and digital literacy content. As a next step, we engaged with The State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which resulted in expanding the program from what was initially planned to be just the capital city, Chennai, to one which covered all 38 districts of the state.

The program now includes the use of assistive screen reader software to translate visual information verbally. Supported by our partner Microsoft’s recommendation to collaborate with ‘Vision Empower’, curated videos are now available to these teachers. In addition, the Department of Inclusive Education deputed more than 300 Special Educators who have been trained to work with visually impaired schoolteachers. Further, accessing the Education Department’s TN-EMIS and Diksha websites (that were previously utilized primarily by sighted teachers), will now enable these teachers to reach nearly 50,000 students, learn from curated audio tutorials, browse websites, use audio/video conferencing tools etc.

Technology can truly be an enabler of human progress and aiding progress for these educators, has been a rewarding effort.

Samundeshwari, a visually impaired teacher from Thiruvannamalai district was introduced to the project during a needs assessment survey. “I was very happy to know the ICT skills training for visually challenged teachers. I was overjoyed to know that our long-awaited dreams have come true. The training helped me understand the concept of using a smartphone with the support of assistive technology for professional and personal use. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Dell Technologies, the SCERT, SSA and HOPE foundation for an initiative that will allow us to come on par with the sighted teachers.”

Ramu, who holds a Master’s in Education degree is a visually impaired teacher at the Government Senior Secondary School, Palikaranai. He says, “Being visually impaired I have gone through a lot in life, but that did not discourage me from having a dream. The interesting part of my life is I’m hungry for knowledge and the skills to be competitive. I was eager to understand how computers can help a visually challenged person like me. It was a dream come true when HOPE foundation, with support from Dell Technologies, set up a smart class and provided my school with a well-equipped assistive technology lab. I am now able to conduct classes and assist students with online assessments and am confident of teaching other visually challenged teachers.”

This partnership reinforces my belief that we are all part of a jigsaw puzzle and that when we come together and the pieces fit, we become whole, for we are one.

Archana Sahay

About the Author: Archana Sahay

Archana Sahay leads regional giving for Asia Pacific & Japan at Dell Technologies. Over a career spanning almost two decades, she has worked with various regional and global organizations in the social sector. At Dell Technologies, she oversees a range of innovative interventions for plugging gaps in the development ecosystem, with a special focus on nurturing youth leadership for social change. A graduate from University of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University in India., Archana is also trained in Executive CSR Strategy by Harvard Business School. She is currently based in India.
Topics in this article