Interview of Jean-Pierre

Jean-Pierre, a visually impaired teacher in Togo who is helping us test the new accessibility features of our Emmabuntüs distribution, answers our questions.

Hello Jean-Pierre. Can you tell us who you are, and what you do for a living?

Portrait of Jean-Pierre

My name is LOGOVI Têvi Akoété, which is what appears on my birth certificate, and my other first name is Jean-Pierre from my baptism in the Catholic religion.

I’m a professional in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) adapted for the visually impaired, and I’m a teacher and trainer in adapted computing at the Saint Augustin Polyvalent Center in Kégué, a suburb to the north-east of Lomé (Togo’s capital).

I’ve been working in this field for over ten years now, having started out as a volunteer on a project that lasted two years before joining the civil service. As I was already there, the Ministry for Social Action, the Promotion of Women and Literacy kindly asked me to stay on at the Center to take special care of blind people, a post I’ve held for seven years as a public servant.

My mission is to train the visually impaired, be they pupils, students or people already employed. I teach them how to use their Android or IOS terminals, and the computers on which the assistive technologies designed for the visually impaired are installed.

I should add that all this was made possible thanks to a training course I received in 2011 at a specialized center for the blind in Ouagadougou (capital of Burkina Faso), which made me a specialist in information and communication techniques for the visually impaired. The training lasted a month, and I acquired the rest of the knowledge I have today through my own personal research and discoveries.

Center computer room

– What are the characteristics of the center where you currently teach?

I teach at the Saint Augustin Center, a specialized facility that trains mainly blind and visually impaired pre-school and primary school children in academic, craft and digital skills. The center was founded in 2006 by an Italian association called “La Luce Venga” (Let there be light), chaired by blind philosopher Ricardo PLACETA. Unfortunately, he passed away, and in 2017 we lost our partnership with this association. The Center is currently looking for a new partner to ensure the continued operation of its activities.

– How did you get into this field of knowledge?

You could say it was accidental. In fact, I was born visually impaired and started school with non-disabled children, and it was only later that my entourage realized that I couldn’t continue my education with this category of people. So I was referred to a Braille writing training center. I was then able to return to public elementary school, where I was monitored and helped by a Braille specialist, who accompanied me from grade 2 to grade 5 of my elementary school.

Once I had my First Degree Studies Certificate, I entered the Protestant College of Lomé-Tokoin, which I attended from 1998 to 2005. I did my undergraduate and postgraduate studies there, where there was already a support system for visually impaired pupils.

After I got my high school diploma, I entered the University of Lomé, where I began a course in history. After four years of study, I obtained my Master’s degree in history, with a specialization in politics and international relations. And as you can see, I left history for teaching ICT to the visually impaired.

– How do you contemplate your future beyond your current position?

I’m passionate about everything to do with information and communication technology in general, and I’d really like to continue in this direction, in the field of research and application development.

I started out as a programmer, and my ambition is to become an application developer. The will is there, but I lack the financial and technical means to make it a reality.

– But isn’t it very complicated to develop code when you’re visually impaired?

Jean-Pierre with his daughter

I learned that in the USA and Canada, there are visually impaired people who do programming. There was a French website (f8cho.fr) which, in its free software section, featured an application developed by a young visually-impaired American, which enabled him to edit code.

– To progress in programming, you need to master a little English. Won’t that be a problem for you?

Not at all. I learned English during my studies, I have students who speak English, and I can make an effort to refresh my memory in that language.

What’s more, web browsers like Chrome can automatically translate from English to French, for example. So if you send me links to sites in English, I can read them.

– When did you first meet Linux?

Very often, computers donated by humanitarian associations run on Linux. The University of Lomé took advantage of this to equip its library, and reserved an ORCA system for us visually impaired people. But at the time, it was the person in charge who used the computer directly, and we never had the opportunity to work with it.

– How did you come to meet Emmabuntüs?

I got acquainted with Emmabuntüs through the YovoTogo association.

A few months ago, I was approached by Justin Tengandé, who I consider an elder, and who lives more than 650 km from the capital Lomé, precisely in the town of Dapaong, in the Savannahs region. It was on the occasion of YovoTogo’s project to donate some forty computers to the Togolese federation of associations of the visually impaired people (FETAPH). Justin contacted me as a specialist in this field, and I responded favorably. And that’s when the collaboration with Claude, Patrick and the Emmabuntüs collective began.

– I suppose it’s complicated to learn how Emmabuntüs works and help implement new features for the visually impaired?

Not so much. Patrick sent me links to Emmabuntüs tutorials, which I was able to read and then implement on my machine running Emmabuntüs. The first difficulty was that the shortcut key combinations were not integrated into the first model of the proposed system. We blind people make a lot of use of keyboard shortcuts, and I immediately mentioned this to Patrick, who found a solution to the problem very quickly. The next big step will be to improve the speech synthesis.

– What do you think of the accessibility features recently added to this system to help the visually impaired?

Key combinations are now integrated, and that’s great. At the risk of repeating myself, text-to-speech is essential for us. We don’t have low vision health facilities in Togo, unlike in Ghana or Benin, and we try to protect our eyesight as much as possible. So we avoid large pointers and screen magnifiers in favor of voice synthesis. And the one currently integrated into Emmabuntüs is not yet satisfactory. The teams developing JAWS for Windows or VoiceOver for MacOS have a lot of resources and talent. It’s likely to be a long road before the Linux environment reaches the same level.

Another feature that will have to be added eventually is the possibility of connecting a Braille display. In fact, the computers donated to FETAPH should be able to help all kinds of disabled people. For example, deaf people who can’t hear, or physically handicapped people who only have the use of one hand, or no hand at all, and for whom navigating with a mouse or typing on a keyboard can be problematic.

– What are your first impressions, now that you’ve started using the system?

They are good. We also need to take into account the context in which we are equipping visually impaired people with computers, as they often lack the financial means to afford such valuable tools. I think it’s a noble and welcome cause, and one that needs to be defended.

The Emmabuntüs system is flexible and not difficult to learn or teach as a trainer. It should be easy to pass on knowledge.

I know there will be improvements to be made, especially with regard to the sound quality of the voice synthesis, which isn’t quite up to scratch yet, but I know there’s a lot of work being done on this project to improve it.

This is rather annoying for us, as we’re not computer novices and have seen JAWS, and therefore better applications. As for Orca speech synthesis, I think we’re going to work together to make this speech compensation more pleasant to listen to.

– Do you think it will be easy for visually impaired people to switch from Windows to Linux?

So I learned computing using Windows and I still work with Windows. So Linux is a recent discovery for me as a user. But I don’t think there will be any resistance among the population, especially for those who have never used a computer before; the equipment will be deployed mainly in the interior of the country; you know there’s a digital gap, a big disparity, between the south, with the capital, and the north of the country, and the equipment will go to remote areas where people will see computer equipment for the first time in their lives.

– How do you feel about working with YovoTogo and Emmabuntüs?

It’s very motivating for me, and I pointed this out at the start of our collaboration. I like everything to do with IT. And I talk to people who are always available to answer my concerns. So, yes, I’m very satisfied, and it bodes well for the future.

– Would you like to add anything to this interview?

I have a wish: I’d like to develop a faculty. We’re always consuming, but we know that we could also produce; however we lack both the technical and financial means to do so. If we could find the people to help us meet this challenge, I’d be delighted: I’d like to program and develop applications. It’s a wish I’d like to fulfill before I have to leave this world.

– Thank you Jean-Pierre

I’d rather be the one thanking you.

Video presentation of the new accessibility functions of Emmabuntüs for the visually impaired