Mobile tech to aid learning among visually impaired students

Orbit Reader 20 is a digital gadget that allows visually impaired students to study.

In Summary

• Orbit 20 Reader is a portable digital braille gadget that enables visually impaired students to study and do assignments on their own.

• The gadget also allows a teacher to interact with students through a chat application on a teacher's smartphone.

A student using braille machine at Thika School for the blind.
A student using braille machine at Thika School for the blind.
Image: FILE

Visually-impaired learners across the country now have a reason to smile following the launch and distribution of learning technology on Thursday at Kilimani Primary School, Nairobi.

The Orbit Reader 20 is a portable digital braille gadget that allows visually impaired students to study and do assignments with minimal restrictions in addition to enhancing teacher-student interactions.

“At KBTA, we are trying to push the objective of distributing Orbit readers to as many visually impaired students in East Africa as possible. The readers are 60 per cent less affordable than the Perkins braillers,” Suparna Biswas, Executive Director of Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa, said.


The gadgets – about the same size as a smartphone – contain digital braille-content tailored in accordance with the learning needs of the students.

They can also be connected to smartphones through which teachers can send notes to their students and monitor their progress on assignments.

“Orbit Reader helps teachers to cater to the needs of visually impaired students, especially in an integrated setting. Through a chat application installed on their smartphones, teachers can communicate with their students and send them notes,” Biswas said.

KBTA – established in 2008 – has been spearheading the launch and distribution of the gadgets within East Africa and Malawi.

The project includes government and private sector agencies, including Kenya Institute for the Blind, Citibank, Kenya Institute for Special Education, Ministry of Education and Safaricom, among others.

In 2019, the organisation distributed 250 gadgets to 27 schools across 27 counties in conjunction with the Ministry of Education.

“So far, we have spent approximately Sh50 million on the purchase of the readers and training. Each one of them costs approximately Sh55,000,” Alex Kaluyu, KBTA's Regional Program Manager, said.


Bernard Kivuva, the headteacher of Kangundo DEB, spoke of the financial benefits encountered since adopting Orbit Readers for visually impaired students.

“Use of Orbit Readers has helped reduce textbook costs for visually impaired students. Unlike able-bodied students, braille textbooks cost in excess of Sh30,000 to purchase,” Kivuva said.

The gains notwithstanding, more resources are required to overcome the financial challenges that the project has encountered.

“There is a need for more smart partnerships between the private sector and the government. In the private sector, we need to do better as corporate citizens,” Citibank CEO Martin Mugambi said.

Responding to the request, Education CAS Mumina Bonaya underlined the ministry's commitment to forging beneficial partnerships with various entities.

“The Ministry of Education is keen on forging partnerships that are beneficial to children. We are calling for technical and material support to help the ministry implement the Sector Policy on learners and trainers with disabilities,” Bonaya said.

Bonaya added that the Orbit Reader is in line with the objectives of the Competency-Based Curriculum because it enables visually impaired students to harness their potential.

Among the schools that were provided with the gadgets at Thursday's event include St Francis School for the Blind (Kapenguria), Dawa Integrated School (Mandera), Kitui School for the Deaf-Blind and Thika Primary School for the Blind.