Helen and Haben outside Lucy Restaurant.
Recognizing that women with disabilities face multiple challenges including gender discrimination, Aster also set up a leadership and life skills training program for all incoming blind female students. The program empowers students to switch from apologizing for their presence in this prestigious institution of learning to being assertive and raising their voices to advocate for better facilities and accommodations they need. One of the first blind women to benefit from the scholarship program is Helen Teshome, holder of a Masters Degree from Addis Ababa University. With her leadership role, Helen serves as a role model for incoming blind students, reminding them that they have a right to an education.
Through a grand ceremony at Mandela Hall that drew hundreds of students, the Vice President, faculty and school administrators, international NGO leaders, and foreign diplomats, the blind women of Addis Ababa University shared their voices. Helen gave a testimony at the celebration of the Tsehay Zewde Memorial Scholarship Program that she continues to help as a trainer and a mentor for new students.
The President of the University has dedicated a learning space and a technology center where blind female students may access computers with screenreaders and braille embossers. The primary technology that was available to them through the Disability Center at the University was old model tape recorders. The students used to tape their lectures on cassettes, then replay the tapes in their rooms, bent over their desks to avoid making noise and to save on batteries. Aster provided funding for 60 digital recorders, rechargeable batteries, and headphones that were a significant improvement. But when she realized the limitations of the learning facilities she and students representing the disabled successfully advocated for a technology and learning center which is now fully equipped to serve the students.
In support of the students’ advocacy, my keynote address stressed the importance of technology for the education of students with disabilities. Assistive technology provides disabled students with the tools to develop their talents and become productive members of society. Administrators and faculty appreciated my presentations, and Mekele University now plans to open a technology center for blind female students within the year.