World Disability Day: Ukrainian Library Brings Mobile IT School to People with Disabilities
One of the core principles of librarianship is to ensure access to information for everyone – including those who can’t come to the library. In Ukraine, people with disabilities are at risk for being left on the wrong side of the digital divide, and librarians realize that these patrons require a different approach: “Limited accessibility to transportation and the vast majority of buildings prevents people with special needs from using the benefits of innovative technology. Meanwhile, modern Internet services…provide valuable information, necessary goods and services, and communication,” states Nina Lokot, Head of Information Resource Center at Luhansk Oblast Universal Scientific Library (OUSL).
This situation prompted the Luhansk librarians to join forces with several local NGOs to implement a project empowering people with special needs to learn basic IT skills, the Mobile School for Computer and Internet Education.
In 2011, the project provided training to dozens of people with visual disabilities and limited mobility. The School traveled to people’s homes or preferred locations, offering one-on-one training from librarians in a comfortable space. The Mobile school turned out to be so popular that it could not accept all applicants, with trainees coming to Luhansk from other towns for the unique opportunity.
Developing new IT skills has helped many trainees cope with feelings of estrangement from society. After learning about online communication, they reported reestablishing old ties and improving the existing ones. Volodymyr Zuyev, a 58-year-old affected by polio, shared an incredible story: “The Internet helped me find my children who live abroad. I had not had any contact with them for twenty years! Now I can talk to friends and relatives.”
Several trainees admitted that they had purchased computers earlier, but could not learn to use them. Nataliya Chyzhyk is one of the patrons who had trainings at home: “The first and foremost thing I learned was to stop being afraid of technology. Overall, it’s a great idea, as I was bound to stay indoors for 11 years and had been unable to gain these skills.” Nineteen-year-old Maryana Oksak entered a college distance learning course despite her cerebral palsy. Her high school had not offered IT training, so this was an opportunity to learn how to study online: “It’s very different when someone explains the material to you in person. On top of the lessons, I always received support and advice.” Olena Rud, a law student at the Eastern Ukrainian National University, agrees and says that the new skills help her to keep pace and be on the same page with the world around her.
Visually challenged trainees revealed that the School was a step forward in their professional development. Olena Tsukanova, 51, shared her changed perspective: “The computer became an integral part of my feeling of self-worth, and made me feel like a modern teacher, not a hapless invalid.” Another trainee, Ihor Sanin, confirmed feeling like the training has broadened his horizons: “I intend to open an online store with the help of my friends from Germany.”
The project was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark under the Civil Society Development Program implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), with far-reaching results. The Luhansk branch of the Ukrainian Library Association has published several manuals on training patrons with disabilities and disseminated them among libraries and NGOs. The librarians plan to produce a documentary about the School, launch a similar project suggested in Alchevsk, and request a possible grant extension. The library won a grant under US Embassy’s LEAP project and opened an Internet center for visually impaired patrons in November. People with special needs from Luhansk have a lot to look forward to, with real opportunities to change their lives forever.
Bibliomist is a five year IREX program that equips libraries with computers and helps librarians implement new services.