Since 2006 we have developed a large range of activities, involving our members, volunteers and collaborators in many ways. We started with small projects, that depended on little money and supported mostly by donations; We believe that many times, with little amounts of money and a lot of good will, it is possible to achieve great goals and do valuable things. Thus, we started with actions like: outdoor activities for visually impaired children and young people, provision of white canes to blind children, we made menus in Braille in restaurants and started our website, which played a key role at the beginning, helping us to reach to people and become visible for those who needed to find us.
Information and Awareness
We started from the idea that it is impossible to build bridges if people do not know the others first. This is why we began to share information and organize awareness-raising activities, helping people get a clear picture of who the visually impaired are and how they should be regarded in society. Thus, we organized seminars and round-table discussions with local bodies working with the disabled or with students in our city, we distributed fliers in town, talked to people and invited them to try using the white cane for a minute, or having dinner in darkness. Our greatest awareness-raising achievement was represented by the radio campaign entitled ’30 Seconds for the White Cane’, produced in partnership with QSound SOFT. This gave us the opportunity to present to a very wide public a cycle of daily situations in which they could meet blind people and tips on how they could help. We were happy to notice the positive impact of this campaign and are determined to encourage such activities in other cities of Romania.
Accessibility and Independence
Cluj-Napoca, in comparison to other cities of Romania, is a city where you can see a lot of blind people in the streets, on the busses, in restaurants. It is a city where we started to have traffic lights with sound and tactile surfaces on the pavements. Pontes has been developing a fruitful dialogue with the city hall, discussing the main interests and needs of the visually impaired population and we have seen things starting to change for the better. We have also discussed with local hypermarkets and from some of them we received positive results, consisting in a shopping assistance service for the blind customers. Pontes has also provided information and has produced tactile charts for the adaptation of the Ethnographic Museum of Transilvania, in Cluj-Napoca, which, in September 2009, became accessible to blind visitors.
In terms of Web accessibility, our IT department has played a key role in providing information and support to companies, so that they could make their websites accessible for screen reader users. We see more and more companies interested in becoming accessible and we welcome each attempt to change a page and make it inclusive for all visitors.
Pontes offers a free assistance service, offered to anyone who needs it, through our website, through Skype or by phone calls. Pontes members and volunteers who are passionate about technology share their knowledge and offer helpful information regarding both assistive and mainstream software. In addition to this, our website helps the blind through a large range of guides, tutorials and useful articles and links.
Pontes is proud to celebrate diversity and use all kinds of communication methods. We have a forum, where we discuss disability-related issues, a blog, a facebook page, but also a virtual club, in wwhich people from all places can get together and participate in different competitions online.
The Electronic Library
We have established an electronic library for our visually impaired members, offering them access to a large number of books, magazines, articles etc, all this in an accessible format that they could read using a screen reader software, or as sound files that they can play online.
Scanning and Braille embossing Services
In 2007, PR Vision, an advertising company in our town, organized a fundraising campaign for us, to help us buy the special equipment we needed at that moment in order to be able to take our projects further. The City Hall of Cluj-Napoca and the Cluj Council responded to our need in a very open manner and offered us, besides other sponsors, the financial support which enabled us to buy a high quality scanner and a Braille embosser. Having this equipment, we started offering scanning services to visually impaired students and Braille printing of any course, book, or any other needed material.
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Projects within the Youth in Action Programme
Since the beginning of 2008, we have been partners in different European projects, within the Youth in Action Programme, participating in youth exchanges and sending visually impaired young people from Romania to work in other organizations, through the European Voluntary Service. In 2009 we started applying for funding from the European Commission, through the Romanian National Agency, www.anpcdefp.ro with different projects created with and for young people.
This project, implemented between May and November 2009, was our first project financed by the European Commission, through the Youth in Action Programme. It consisted of a youth Exchange which took place in July in 2009, between young people, with and without disabilities, from 4 European countries: Spain, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania. We organized workshops and other non-formal activities focusing on issues of interest to the disabled: mobility within EU, access to jobs, access technology and inclusive sports.
Playing Together was the second youth exchange we hosted; it took place in September 2009 and gathered young people from five countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain and Romania, who focused on inclusive leisure time activities. They discussed different types of such activities during workshops, but also tried to play different accessible games: computer games, board games, team games etc.
“Creative Together” was the first EVS hosting project developed by Pontes, aiming at promoting European citizenship and increasing inclusive participation of young people through volunteering. The project was financed by the European Commission, within the European Voluntary Service, which is part of the Youth in Action Programme.
The project gave two European volunteers, Inge, from The Netherlands and Johanna, from Germany, the chance to volunteer with us, here in Cluj, for ten months, between October 2009 and July 2010. They got involved in our on-going projects and also started new activities themselves. We encouraged them to get acquainted with our young people, most of them with visual disabilities, discovering each other’s cultures, learning from each other, overcoming barriers and becoming more active in the community.
The volunteers organized inclusive activities for both children and young people with visual disabilities, such as: tactile art, cultural events, traditional cooking, different exploration of different European languages , but also games and outdoor activities like: bowling, swimming, or skating. They also helped us with providing accessible materials to blind people, scanning materials and embossing books in Braille. The two volunteers had the chance to learn a lot, to become more independent and organized and also to know and understand better the life of visually impaired youth. Our young people, on the other hand, became more open and active and have already started to go as European volunteers themselves./p>
This project was also financed by the European Commission, through the Youth Initiative sub action and will give us the chance to produce a collection of tactile maps and graphs which will be donated to all the schools for the blind in Romania. All schools face the problem of not having adequate tactile materials for those students with no sight who cannot use large print. This is why we started solving this problem, by creating slides with graphs and maps, which will be used in teaching subjects like: math, biology, science and geography.
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