Always Reading Caravan With Yoshimi Horiuchi

SEASON 1 EPISODE 43

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  • Anthony Joh is pleased to welcome to the show, Yoshimi Horiuchi who runs a non-profit organization called Always Reading Caravan that provides mobile library services to families in the rural areas of Thailand. The program aims to provide story books to children with or without disabilities who otherwise would not have access to these type of books.
  • Yoshimi herself has been blind since she was a child and she talks about the difficulties she faces in living and working in both Bangkok and Tokyo. She is a huge fan of the iPhone and other technologies that make it easier for her to communicate and offers tips to web developers on how they can make their websites more accessible to people using screen readers.

Blind Spots to See

Curious how a blind person makes her way in the crowded streets of Thailand and can surf the net, Anthony, interviewed the Director of Always Reading Caravan Yoshimi Horiuchi. Yoshimi was born in Japan nearly blind but was still able to perceive light and colors. She lost her sight entirely in her teens but still remembers colors and other elements in her memory.

So how does she manage to update her social media account and maintain a webpage these days? Yoshimi shared that she also uses a normal computer with screen reader software. A screen reader reads what is on the screen and it gives her an idea of what the webpage looks like. Yoshimi navigates through a page using the arrow keys and tabs to go to links and other features on the website. She often prefers pages that do not contain a lot of text. Websites with a lot of words often take time for the screen reader to read every part of the page. Yoshimi also praised the iPhone because of its free, pre-installed voice-over and other helpful features that allow people with disabilities to use their phones with ease.

For web designers who would like to make their landing page easier to view, Yoshimi suggested using less text and putting headings and landmarks such as lists. Having a description of photos and a caption for posts and pictures also help communicate what the picture is about. The title of one’s pictures when uploaded may also affect how it can be seen or read by the screen reader. Additional guidelines to make websites more accessible can be found at the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

While it may be more challenging to walk around her current city Bangkok with its dogs, carts, and vendors on uneven roads, Yoshimi also pointed out the friendliness and helpfulness of Thai people. Compared to Tokyo where people would hesitate to help disabled people, Yoshimi said that for her it would be nicer if they didn’t assume they didn’t want some help. She appreciated it when she received assistance from others, even if they were doing it wrong like grabbing their pole or tugging their arm!

A Literacy Project

Nowadays, she is living in Thailand where she promotes the joy of reading through the caravan. This non-profit organization provides equal reading opportunities for children and adults from any background. It was also an avenue to break down the mental barrier between people coming from different backgrounds by bringing everybody together through reading. They bring books to children with disabilities or those who have difficulty moving out of their house or roaming around their village. Holding interesting activities without the atmosphere of discrimination attracts children to come and interact with other kids who may be slightly different from them.

Unlike Japan’s reading society where white collared people reading in urban areas can be a normal sight, encouraging reading in Thailand is a challenge. More often than not, people associate reading to studying. Some would be afraid to read thinking they might do it badly. Thus, the group travels all over Thailand bringing mobile libraries to parks and villages. They also conduct outreach projects in different villages bringing interesting books

While the quality of education is high, books can be very expensive. Most of the villages do not have any bookstores or libraries. Buying a book require going to the city and available books are mostly for school or are not updated. Prices for soft or hardbound books would also be equivalent to 3-10 meals. Bringing magazines and books with colorful, pictures, interesting illustrations and pop-ups amaze people of its existence.

To engage more readers, the group would ask these special books from Japan and accept donations from other countries. The caravan’s volunteers also come from Japan and overseas and can translate the books to the Thai language.

For those who are interested to send books donations, send them a message at their page Always Reading Caravan on Facebook!

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