Read to Light Bhutan: Enabling the visually impaired to have access to educational books

Under the wise and benevolent leadership of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck, His Royal Highness Prince Namgyel Wangchuck, the then Minister of Trade, Industry and Forests, established the first-ever school to cater to the needs of visually impaired in 1973 at Khaling under Trashigang district.

The school began with only three students at the time and has come a long way since. Today, a cohort of alumni of the Muenselling Institute for the Visually Impaired, formerly known as Khaling School for the Blind, plays an important role in the development of Bhutan in various capacities as well as advocates for individuals living with disabilities.

In recent times, the Ministry of Education has expanded the integrated and inclusive learning environment to 14 Special Education Needs schools across Bhutan, in addition to a school that caters to hearing impaired children at Paro. However, much needs to be done to improve the quality of inclusive education and make learning fun and exciting beyond the prescribed text books and classroom walls. In particular, the visually impaired children are the most disadvantaged due to limited educational resources available in braille and screen reading software.

Today, the Bhutan Foundation is happy to sign a project agreement with the Loden Foundation, a registered civil society organization in Bhutan, to improve access to education by developing a mobile phone application that would allow visually impaired individuals to access hundreds of academic and non-academic audio books in Dzongkha and English. In addition, the project will also introduce a toll-free dial-in service system to listen to the audio books.

The project, which is titled ‘Read to Light Bhutan,’ will result in a repository of audio documentation of books and stories of educational and cultural values. As a part of the project, Loden Foundation will host an annual reading event where volunteers will record audio books and through such initiative the project will contribute content and materials for any e-library in Bhutan.

We wish the Loden Foundation all the best and look forward to the launch of the mobile application.