Adjunct Professor of Philosophy
American University in Bulgaria
10 Dimitrov St.
2700 Blageovgrad, Bulgaria
v: (+359) 732-0968
f: (+359) 732-20603
Education, higher; Education, continuing or distance Research, academic; Health care/health services; Opportunities for people with disabilities library Museums, arts
More equitable access to technology or electronic information; Creation of new ideas, products, or services; Technology transfer
Supporting Documentation (contact author for more information):
Slides/photographs (photos of Nikolay available on request)
Story Site (if other than location listed above):
(East-European Sibling of Maine)
An Overseas Success of the Network
This is a story of a personal struggle to achieve, but it is an Eastern Bloc country’s struggle too. The electronic network has already made a big impact here in Blagoevgrad. The American University in Bulgaria, which has access, is now two years old. It was begun in 1991 with major help from the University of Maine. Our growth here parallels that of the network, furious, full of surprises, and fast.
The Network has changed one young Bulgarian’s life prospects, but only after he overcame certain inequities of access. An inequity in access here favors us faculty: students lack network accounts, we have them. Another inequity: our students grew up speaking Bulgarian, or Romanian, whereas we grew up speaking what is fast becoming the globally dominant language (even the “A” in ASCII points towards us). The rules here are that students do all work in English.
Enter 19 year old Nikolay Velev Todorov, a native Bulgarian student. He’s in his second year here, majoring in Computer Science. He’s denied a network account, he’s struggling with his full-time course load, — and he’s blind! Nikolay is on the lean side of all of these inequities. It helps, of course, that Nikolay, in addition to the English he acquired in his Eastern Bloc secondary school, is fluent in Turbo-Pascal and C.
What else is lean in Nikolay’s country? The phones don’t work, neither do FAX machines most of the time. The 1993 minimum wage stands at $35/month.
Nikolay laughed when I told him he was so good that all he needed was for Mr. Kurzweil to send him a copy of his source- code for synthesizing an English voice from an ASCII cassette tape, and Nikolay would personally teach ASCII tapes to come out sounding like Bulgarian by the following Thursday. It amused him how much he needed to teach me about the ways of free market competition.
Nikolay got plenty excited when I told him in March that I’d found a listing of a group called BLIND-L, “Computer Use by and for the Blind”. He’d had only a remote sense of the riches on the network, or its accessibility to him, a lean youngster in a lean nation. So like Jack Sprat and his spouse, we two collaborated.
Network accounts are to be made available to some students. We broadened our list to include “Blind News Digest”, and the BPAILLE@CSEARN people from central Europe. St. Paul’s surefooted Dana Noonan guided us beautifully.
Imagine the expression on Nikolay’s face when we got this message from Indiana. It was from a friendly specialist, Phillip White, who runs a computer lab for the disabled at Purdue:
“Students here are so spoiled…. Those who are completely sightless have voice synthesis hardware/software to make the computers accessible. The screen is just read to these users. Let me see what I can do for you about getting you some software. Like I said, I’m not sure how to compress it properly for electronic mailing, but will find out.”
Nothing uniquely Bulgarian, or uniquely American, about our two reactions: So spoil us!
The global network has been a splendid resource here, to Nikolay and his compatriots. The others do not suffer from his particular disability, but they have all grown up in an information-starved part of Europe. The network will help their American-style education, and their learning about free and open democratic processes. It’s a shining example. May it grow, may it prosper, may it continue to brighten lives as it has brightened Nikolay’s and mine here in Bulgaria this year.
For additional information contact:
Jeremy E. Johnson
Computing and Data Processing Services
University of Maine System
Orono, ME 04469
v: (207) 581-3504
f: (207) 581-3531