A window of opportunity

At first glance, the computer room at Optima College looks like any other computer room at schools around the country.

Young adults sit in front of a row of computers with standard keyboards. Their teacher, Deena Moodley, moves attentively between them, clarifying questions, providing answers.

But something is different. None of the students use a mouse. They find their way around the screen with a system of sometimes non-documented keystrokes. And they’re not reading the screen in front of them. They’re listening as the computers talk to them.

Moodley and his class are blind, like nearly 240 000 other South Africans.

Optima College is an initiative of the South African Council for the Blind vocational training facility in Pretoria.

Moodley is an access technology specialist and entrepreneur who recently opened his own company, Soft-Tron. He aims to open doors—or more specifically Windows—for the visually impaired, both locally and internationally.

He uses a Microsoft program called Jaws—Job Access with Speech. It transforms a personal computer and a speech synthesiser into a talking computer system for people who are blind, making it possible for them to use regular computer software programs such as e-mail, web browsers, speadsheets and project management software.

“Because I’m blind myself, I recognise specific difficulties they experience and have developed low-cost training courses that they can work on at home,” says Moodley.

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