University of Dhaka (DU) is one of the only three universities, in Bangladesh, that admit students with visual impairment. To facilitate the study of the visually impaired students of the country’s largest university, a resource centre was established at the campus in 2007 by the university authorities with the collaboration of Sight-savers International, a non-government organisation that works across the world for the visually impaired students.
Located on the ground floor of the administrative building of the university’s Central Library to be used as a study centre for DU blind students, the resource centre symbolises the very notion that education is for all. The centre remains open every weekday from 8 in the morning to 9 at night, and at least 20 students come here every day to study and do their departmental assignments. It is also a library where the visually challenged students of Dhaka University can use resources which are specially designed for them. Almost all the study materials in the resource centre are in Braille, a method globally used by visually impaired persons to read and write.
Staffed by four visually challenged persons, the centre has a collection of 23 books in Braille of different departments, 2 Braille typewriter machines, 27 lines Braille guide (a writing frame through which students can write in Braille), Braille stylus (a special pen to write in Braille) and an impressive collection of audio cassettes and CDs.
There are quite a number of modern machineries to assist the learning process of the visually challenged students. The centre, for example, has computers with JAWS talking, a screen reader software which provides the users with access to the information displayed on the screen via text-to-speech or by means of a Braille display. It also allows users to perform comprehensive keyboard functions with the computers. The library also has a collection of 3 digital computers, scanners, Braille printer, Plextalk CD (a specialised machine where visually impaired students can record sound and listen from the audio), tape recorders and other useful tools.
Airin Sultana, a visually impaired student of the university, said, “The centre means everything for my study. My study would not have been possible without it. I always thank all the teachers connected with it.”
However the resource centre can accommodate only 10 students at a time whereas the total number of visually impaired students enrolled at DU is almost 60. Moreover the number of Braille books is not enough against the original demand. And most of the books lack modern editions.
Md Sarower Hossen Khan, assistant librarian of DU central library and also a visually impaired person who works at the resource centre, said, “I have completed my graduation and post-graduation from this university. When we were students this centre was not established and we faced many problems.”
“After completing my studies I have joined here and I think this is the best decision of my life as it lets me stay in touch with all the visually impaired students at DU. The most notable matter is that the staff here are also visually impaired, which is why they have a better understanding about the problems that the students who come here suffer from,” he added.
Professor SM Zabed, librarian of DU central library admitted that they have some limitations and said, “We started this resource centre with a very small scope, but now we are trying to enrich it so that it can become more useful for these students.”
Asking about the shortage of Braille book, Prof Zabed said, “Braille books and printers are quite expensive. We have some financial limitations, that’s why we can’t buy new books and printers. But we are contacting some organisations working for the visually impaired to promote the resource centre. We are hopeful that some help will be forthcoming soon.”