Think of the children; They are our future

Access Braille

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Castilleja Project

My name is Mayuka and I'm really excited to share my experience leading a short workshop series at my high school Castilleja, located in Palo Alto. The workshop, entitled "Speaking out for Universal Literacy: Building Educational Resources for Visually Impaired Children," was a part of an annual event my school holds called "Global Week," which is a week in which the entire school explores a global issue or topic through speakers, projects, workshops, and outreach programs. This year's Global Week theme is called "Social Change: Standing Up and Speaking Out." The theme really resonated with me as one that has so much potential for spurring individuals to larger social action -- inspired by that feeling, I lead a three-day workshop that became the highlight of my experience during Global Week.

It all started when I was first introduced to Access Braille, a non-profit grassroots organization whose primary goal is to stand up and speak out for universal literacy -- in other words, to make sure that each and every child around this world has equal access to education and literacy.

I actually learned about this organization recently through my aunt, Sudha Rajagopalan, who lost her vision a few years ago and who is an amazing spokesperson for Access Braille and for other visually impaired members of our community. As I started talking to her about what I could do in order to get involved, I began to realize that I really could make a difference in a visually impaired child's life! That feeling that you personally have the ability to create social change is quite a powerful one, and so when I found out that this year's global week theme was "social change," I thought -- perfect! What better way could there be to spread the word about Access Braille's cause than to provide a hands-on experience that would give other students that same feeling of the power to create change that I felt!

Now let me talk about the experience we had during the last three days.

I was extremely lucky to be able to lead a group of super motivated students who were all working hard towards the singular goal of making education and simply the joy of reading a book something more accessible for all those visually impaired children out there who aren't as lucky as we are to be able to pick up a book and read. I'd like to share some really eye-opening statistics about a gaping hole in our world's education systems that often seems to be overlooked, and that is this: there are 285 million people with visual impairment around the world, 19 million of which are children. Every minute, a child in the world goes blind. 90% of the visually impaired live in developing countries. And one really crazy statistic is this: that out of all the published books in the world, only 5% are in a format that is accessible to visually impaired people. It's a really shocking number -- and during the course of this workshop, we set out to take that other 95% into our own hands.

After an introduction to the organization, the students got started on building their very own audio books, from start to finish. Also with us was Sudha, who talked to us about and demoed different tools such as audio book apps and Digital Talking Books and really showed us how what we would be accomplishing during this workshop was making a really big difference in the end user's life. We began on the first day by learning how to do a process called "proofreading" the stories by formatting them such that they could be read by an accessible digital audio software. And on the second day, the students were able to use their own voices to record mini audio books in small groups. I am very very proud and extremely excited to say that at the beginning of the workshop we had set out with the ambitious goal of creating 10 audio books by the end of the third day. And guess what? The students met and even surpassed our goal by making 11 audio books!!! These audio books are now on the Access Braille website so that they will be publicly accessible by everybody all around the world! The best part is that visually-impaired children around the world are now going to be able to experience the joy of reading eleven more books they wouldn't have had before and they will hear the voices of the Castilleja students who put so much passion into this project!

I think this is what true social change means. It means setting out to change lives, and actually changing lives. This group of amazing students stood up and spoke out about an important cause, learned how to proofread, learned how to operate an audio recording software, and created a tangible product in the form of 11 audio books -- and all of that in just a matter of three hours. Those students, just like me, have realized the power of being able to create something tangible that can make such a difference. Just like them, I know every single person has the ability to create enormous change for any cause with the right amount of passion for that cause. I'd like to invite everyone to get involved with Access Braille by becoming a volunteer so that together we can make that difference, one book at a time.