, THIKA, Kenya, Apr 8 – Two big screens line the front of the tent. They can’t see what’s on them but they can hear and their seats barely contain them as they jump up and down.
“You need to come more often,” the Headteacher of Thika School of the Blind Jotham Makokha later tells the blind musician Denno (Dennis Karanja), “as you well know, those born blind aren’t usually very good dancers as they’ve never seen anyone move; so they need more practice.”
Co-ordinated or not, they celebrate; celebrate the new Safaricom website that has been reconfigured with them especially in mind.
In the computer lab 17-year-old Nelson Otieno tells Safaricom Corporate Affairs Director Nzioka Waita what he thinks of their new website.
“This one is much better. It’s better organised and while I can’t see the pictures, at least I have an idea of what they are,” he says.
And he goes on to demonstrate to Waita what he means.
He listens intently to the voice that comes through his headphones and uses the cursor keys to move between the various tabs.
On the homepage he moves to the shop tab, presses down the enter key and is taken to that page. Then he uses the space bar to check and select his price range for a phone, the operating system, manufacturer and style.
If there’s a photo on the page, his screen reader tells him what it is, “A man dressed in Masai regalia smiling at a phone in his hand after a successful M-PESA transaction,” I make out.
Together with Waita they check on the availability of a Nokia phone with a qwerty keyboard in the price range of Sh15,001 to Sh20,000.
“If the site can be accessed by those with visual impairments, it then means all the other customers can be able to access the site,” Waita later says of their latest endeavour:
Creating one of the first websites in the country that puts the needs of the visually impaired at the core of its development.
“There are over 300,000 persons with visual impairments in this country and we want them to compete effectively in the market place. That means allowing them to function with ease on the cyber sphere,” Waita explains.
And for Denno, just having the pictures on a website explained, is a big step forward, “If there are very many photos on a site then the screen reader will not be able to give me the actual look of the photo. Until now.”
And while making the website user friendly to the visually impaired is a big part of their latest renovation, Waita says it is not the only end.
“Our target is to make sure on a monthly basis we can serve up to two million customers. The site can figure out where you are, it can link you to the nearest shop, you can then search for a device, you’ll be told about stock availability and which shop, place your order, Lipa na M-PESA online, have your device reserved and picked at your location,” he continues to explain.
And to drive traffic to their website, Nzioka says Safaricom plans to spend Sh100 million on a digital campaign in the coming financial year.
“We would like more Kenyans to get information about our products and services over the internet. It’s two fold. One it makes the information available to a wider demographic but two it also serves our purposes of trying to build the internet culture among Kenyans,” he says.
Toward this end Safaricom has spent well over Sh15 million over the past few months widening its online demographic to include the visually impaired.
And it’s at the celebrations of which that the Children of Thika School for the Blind now recite: “We were mteja but we are now connected thanks to Safaricom.”