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News || Wednesday, 01 February 2012

Souktel’s New Mobile Audio Services: Empowering Blind and Low-Literacy Communities Through Basic Technology

Nurredin Amro lives in East Jerusalem and has been blind since birth. This hasn't stopped him from running the New York Marathon, starting a school for the visually impaired and leading award-winning projects for nonprofit organizations. Not one to shy away from technology—Amro regularly checks email and updates his blog using a screen reader—he recently called upon Souktel to help solve a problem.

At least once a week, Amro must send out important messages to staff and parents of the students at Siraj al-Quds, the school he's been running since 2003. It's usually a very time-consuming process because the messages must be audible, not text-based, meaning a long series of phone calls would have to be made.

The solution: Souktel's new mobile voice messaging service, which allows Amro to log into a website, record a unique message, select the group of mobile users he wants to send it to, and click a single button to make it happen instantly.

"It saves a lot of time and money," says Amro, "I love using it. We sent a message just yesterday [to several hundred people] announcing the launch of a new program and the services and activities that will start February 1st … And I'll send another one out tomorrow to advertise the beginning of second semester."

In Palestine, as in many parts of the world, there's a shortage of services that cater to people who are blind—or who simply can’t read. Fortunately, mobile technology can play a key role in empowering these communities, letting them access crucial information through voice-activated services (or touch-tone audio menus). For Souktel, mobile audio has become a growing part of its work--and will be a major focus for 2012.

"In almost every developing country, illiteracy and disability are massive challenges,” says Souktel president Jacob Korenblum. “When a large percentage of the community can’t read, they can’t get the basic information they need for daily life: Where to find a doctor, where to find emergency food supplies. Increasingly, our partner NGOs have come to us asking us how we could leverage mobile tech to solve this problem”.

He adds: “This has now become a critical component of our work. We've been running interactive mobile audio services in Africa for the past two years—one focused on promoting financial literacy while another helped citizens figure out where to vote—so bringing this technology back to our home base in Palestine seemed natural. Going forward, we believe these services will become all the more vital: Cell phone ownership is booming in places like Nigeria or Iraq, and low-literacy communities want to leverage the benefits that mobiles bring”.  

Now, the goal will be to expand these mobile audio services into different markets around the world, and especially for grassroots organizations, in order to ensure people like Nurredin Amro aren't left behind.

Read more about the Siraj al-Quds School here.

Learn more about The Synergos Institute, this project's funder, here.