By Peter Korn
The good folks at Brailcom: http://www.brailcom.org in the Czech Republic have developed a suite of free, online English & German languages courses specifically geared to folks with visual impairments at http://eurochance.brailcom.org.
They are presently offering intermediate and advanced courses, including courses specifically geared to native speakers of Czech, Slovak, Spanish, Norwegian, German, and English (these last two only for going into the other language).
>From their about page:
"The general aim of the project is to reduce the unemployment rate of the blind and visually impaired. By improving the skills of the visually impaired and raising the level of awareness of the professional community regarding the skills and competences of the blind and visually impaired, it is hoped that this project will make a solid contribution to achieving this goal."
"Specifically our partnership has developed English and German language modules for the blind and visually impaired, which are available using Internet. The project seeks to increase the language and cultural skills of blind employees, whilst raising their awareness of employment possibilities and aiding further personal development."
One particularly neat thing about these on-line courses is that they've been developed and tested specifically to work in Mozilla Firefox and the KDE Konquerer web browsers on UNIX systems, and specifically with the Orca screen reader/magnifier: http://cvs.gnome.org/viewcvs/*checkout*/orca/docs/doc-set/orca.html (in addition to working with the Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera, w3m, Links, and Lynx web browsers on a variety of platforms). What this means is that, other than the cost of the computer hardware, these sources are entirely free - delivered from a free website to run on free web browsers that work with free assistive technologies on free desktop environments. They've even developed a free Czech voice for the free Festival software text to speech system.
Given the incredibly high unemployment rate for people with visual impairments, it makes complete sense that these courses be offered free - as someone without employment will find it extremely difficult to get the thousands of dollars (or the thousands of Euros, or the tens of thousands of Czech Koruna) one would need to purchase an operating system and screen reader in order to take these courses otherwise.
It's also another example of what we've been saying at Sun for a little while now - that we're moving into the Participation Age, where one of the key values is sharing for the greater economic and social good it brings to all of us.
Click this link to visit Peter Korn's Weblog: http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/korn.