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Princess brings it to underprivileged

Disabled children, students in rural areas and jail inmates benefit as Royal initiatives help bridge the digital divide

Published on April 2, 2008

Princess brings it to underprivileged

Toyeeba Soumair, a girl from Narathiwat province who was born without arms and legs, has benefited from HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s efforts. Toyeeba now uses a special computer which allows her to use her shoulder to manipulate a trackball.

Born without arms and legs, Toyeeba Soumair, a girl from Narathiwat province, never thought that she would get a chance to explore the world of computers until she met HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at Baan Plug Pla School 11 years ago. That moment changed her life.

Now, the 16-year-old girl is adept at using computers. Despite her physical disabilities, she can use her shoulder to move a trackball to control the cursor, log onto the Internet and work on Word documents.

With support from the Information Technology Project, created through an initiative by the  Princess, Toyeeba got a new perspective on life.

The Princess not only arranged for special support for the girl's physical rehabilitation, she also gave the young girl a computer to help improve her skills.

"Since the young girl has no arms at all, we had to design a computer which has a special switch device, which allows her to easily perform mouse functions using her shoulder with just one click," Pairach Thajchayapong, the vice chairman of the Princess's IT project, said.

With the Princess's support, Toyeeba entered a whole new world where she could overcome her disabilities and enter the digital era in step with other people.

Toyeeba is one of the many success stories to come out of the Princess's IT project which aims to bring information technology to underprivileged people.

Since IT's role in society is growing steadily, there are likely to be gaps between technology haves and have-nots. This was a key reason for the establishment of the Princess' IT project which seeks to bridge the so-called digital divide and make technology accessible to all levels of society.

Started in 1995, the project has adopted several technologies which can serve underprivileged people.

Another success story is Abdulloh Barahamair who is from Yala province. He too has physical disabilities but now has a chance to use technology to contribute to society and improve his life.

He started receiving the support in 2002.

With help from the Princess's IT project, the little boy received assistive technology to help him learn, live and play just like other children. Nowadays, one sees an upbeat, cheerful smile on his face.

The Princess realised that technology is an important tool to help people with disabilities become more self-reliant - a goal which has been close to her heart for many decades.

Apart from the two disabled children, the project also covers the development of technology to help people with other disabilities, Pairach said.

Many of the technology developments were initiated with the help of a Thai research network. So far, the project has developed various kinds of assistive technologies which can help people with hearing disabilities learn and practice their speaking, as well as communicate using other methods. Other developments have helped the blind use computers through sound prompts and helped amputees with better prosthetics.

Recently, the Princess has also focused on helping disabled people, especially blind children, get a better chance to study the sciences.

With the realisation that the blind always have a problem when it comes to learning, especially science, the Princess set up a fund to support this cause. Five blind students have already received the Princess's scholarship to study science from Grade 10 to the graduate level.

However, to help the blind experience scientific theory, technology must aid learning as well. Pairach said the project will adopt technologies, such as sensors, to develop an educational tool which can use sound prompts and inputs which can turn scientific experiments into audio, instead of visual, experiences.

IT for inmates

Apart from helping the disabled, the Princess's project also takes technology to jail inmates.

The Princess believes that if this group is trained in computer skills, they have a better chance  of finding employment and becoming productive citizens after completing their sentences.

The first programme, called IT for Inmates, was launched 10 years ago to teach basic computer skills to prisoners at Bangkhen Central Women's Prison through a 126-hour computer training course. The programme was then extended to Central Correction Facility for Drug Addicts, Bangkok Special Prison and Bangkok Remand Prison.

To date, the course has been expanded to teach computer repair and desktop publishing. More than 25 prisons around the Kingdom have opted to train their inmates.

Pairach said IT for Inmates project has changed the life of prisoners. Many of them, after completing their sentences, could use the knowledge to open their own computer repair shops while others could pursue a fruitful IT career in private computer companies.

Thanks to the Princess, Pairach said, their lives have changed and they have more opportunities to earn a honest living instead of indulging in illegal activities.

IT for Thai children

The Princess has paid special attention to help youngsters improve their education through the use of computers.

Under the Princess's initiative started over a decade ago, computer technology and the Internet have been brought to around 86 rural schools around the Kingdom with a hope of minimising educational inequality and offering children in remote areas a chance to gain access to knowledge at par with children in urban areas.

"Once children in remote areas learn computers and gain access to the Internet, they can access various sources of information and take a big stride toward equality in education. Many of the children in these areas have received computer rewards while some have received scholarships to continue their studies in Thailand or overseas," Pairach said.

The Princess's initiative also extends to IT for sick children in hospital, he said. The project will train teachers to develop computer-aided instruction modules to teach sick children, allowing them to catch up with lessons during their stay in the hospital.

The efforts of the Princess will ensure that many underprivileged groups will not lag behind as the world moves rapidly into the digital era, Pairach said.

Pongpen Sutharoj

The Nation

      At a glance

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's IT project

n The Princess's Information Technology Project was started a 10 years ago.

n It has developed various assistive technologies which can help people with hearing disabilities learn and practice speaking.

n The Princess has also focused on helping disabled people, especially blind children, get a better chance to study the sciences

n Five blind students have already received scholarships to study science from Grade 10 to the graduate level.

n The project has taken computer technology and the Internet to around 86 rural schools around the Kingdom.

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