DOHA, Oct 04: Qatar’s vision to empower and enable people with disabilities through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is receiving a boost with Mada, the Qatar Assistive Technology Centre.
Since the non-profit organisation opened on June 1 this year, a number of individuals have benefited from its state-of-the-art resource centre, described as the region’s only one of its kind.
The centre features interactive assistive technology (AT) environments for the visually impaired, hearing impaired, learning disabled and people with disabilities.
Mada’s core group of officials, led by director Faleh al-Naemi, yesterday gave a presentation to the media about the activities of the organisation, a public-private partnership promoted by ictQATAR, QNB, Qtel, Vodafone Qatar and Microsoft.
“Given that lot of software used in the centre is in English, we are working with some companies to develop Arabic content,” Mada’s assessment services head Aejaz Zahid said.
The Mada resource centre, located on the seventh floor of the ictQATAR building (Al Nasr Tower B) on the Corniche, next to the Commercialbank Plaza, is open to all individuals with disabilities from Monday to Thursday (9am to 3pm) and on Sunday (11am to 6pm).
“Our objective is to co-operate with all organisations working for the disabled,” Mada deputy director David Banes stated.
Explaining that international partnership brings the benefits of AT to Qatar, he revealed that an agreement with US-based Bookshare.org would make available more than 16,000 books in electronic format.
“Initially, 500 users are to be given access to 20,000 books, which could be downloaded onto computers or other digital devices,” Banes said.
Mada is also working with regional partners to develop extensive Arabic content in this regard. If a disabled individual wishing to visit the resource centre needs transport, Mada will also arrange that, he added.
The Mada resource centre is a showcase of cutting-edge technology, including computer software that reads the screen for the blind, eye tracking devices that allows to control a computer with eye movement, voice recognition, switch solutions that allow a computer to be controlled with a single movement such as sipping or blowing through a tube and word prediction.
There are separate workstations for individuals with hearing, visual, learning or physical disabilities. Screenreader solutions such as Ibsar and Jaws enables blind users to read, on their own, printed books and documents as well as electronic files.
Ibsar helps them write texts in both Arabic and English, in addition to saving and printing these texts in Braille. The software speaks the text on a computer screen in both Arabic and English.
With a screenreader a blind user is able to access the Internet and read websites, or send, receive and manage e-mail.
The Tobii eye-tracking computer allows someone with no physical control of their body, other than eye movement to take control of a computer through which they can communicate, control the environment, browse the web and even play games.
“You can attach a mobile phone SIM to Tobii and use the system as a phone,” Mada’s senior assistive technology specialist Anirban Lahiri said.
Each individual approaching Mada will be assessed and a suitable AT solution identified and training imparted. Mada staff would continue to update the beneficiaries and monitor their progress.
“As part of outreach efforts we have worked with electrical engineering students from Qatar University on projects to develop software tools that would enable physically-disabled users to access a mobile phone such as BlackBerry or iPhone,” Mada’s communications head Ahmed Habib added.