Jelena Kostić (35) is a graduate defectologist from the city of Vranje in Serbia. Last year, she built on the knowledge she gained during her university studies with programming skills. Namely, Jelena was one of the 20 participants in the national IT Retraining program which was tailored to the needs of persons with disabilities. The Program was organized by the Youth with Disabilities Forum with the support of the Office for IT and e-Government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Jelena’s dedication to acquiring new knowledge paid off while she was still attending the IT Retraining program. She got a job as a defectologist in the civil society organization "Living Together", which helps persons with intellectual disabilities. In addition to her studies at the Faculty for Special Education and Rehabilitation of the University of Belgrade, Jelena now has the necessary skills and knowledge to create web pages in WordPress as well as to work in the JavaScript programming language.

I think one of the reasons why I got the job is because I know how to use new technologies and create websites. Since the website of the organization where I started working had not functioned for the previous two years, I had the opportunity to create a website for them,” she explains.

Jelena became interested in programming while she was studying at the university. “In high school, I was not interested in computers and programming at all. However, in the second year of college, we had the course Application of Computer Technologies in Teaching Children with Intellectual Disabilities, which is when I saw the whole potential of new technologies and how useful they can be for persons with disabilities. As soon as I saw that the call for applications for the IT Retraining program for persons with disabilities was open, I applied.”

When asked what she would highlight as the most important thing she learned during the IT retraining program, Jelena answered with a smile: “JavaScript is not difficult to learn! Even though I prefer the creative, design aspects of the job, the program lecturers planned and delivered the course material in such a way that it was much more interesting than I had expected. Especially when we started learning React, which is a JavaScript library. I kept coming up with ideas on how I could use that knowledge.”

In the beginning, the IT retraining program for persons with disabilities took place in the premises of the Research and Development Center of the Faculty of Organizational Sciences in Belgrade. However, following the COVID-19 pandemic, participants of the program had to shift to online classes.

“As group members in the program we were very close, we all quickly understood one another and joined forces. We even saw each other privately and organized around various initiatives. Lectures happened three times a week, which was quite intense for some of us, but we always managed to help each other out. Besides, whenever any obstacles arose, the lecturers were always ready to promptly answer emails, come to the lecture earlier or stay with us afterwards. They were open and receptive to our needs, and always willing to give us even more support than was envisioned by the program. Moreover, they took the time to explain other technologies and areas that interested us.”

Jelena's story emphasizes the importance of acquiring different skills in a rapidly changing world that increasingly relies on new technologies.

"The program helped me work on personal goals and ambitions because I truly have a desire to work in the IT sector. In fact, one day I would like to run my own IT company because I want to work on programs that are important to our society, for example – technological solutions that help persons with disabilities acquire new skills. As a special educator and rehabilitator of persons with intellectual disabilities, I know that they need support in every aspect of life. Since these people are generally very interested in computers and games, interactive and fun educational platforms based on new technologies can help them a lot. However, assistive technology is very expensive in Serbia. Although there are technological solutions in our country that have been imported from abroad and adapted to our language, there are not many people working in this area. Even though there is a great need - especially in working with non-verbal children. My desire is to work on technologies that help persons with disabilities in their daily lives. It is a long-term plan for me, and I still have a lot to learn, but I hope that I am on the right path to achieving it.”

The national IT Retraining Program in cooperation with UNDP was launched in 2017. Since then, more than 1250 candidates have completed the program. At the suggestion of the Ministerial Council for Innovative Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, a pilot IT Retraining program for persons with disabilities was launched at the end of 2019, organized by the Youth with Disabilities Forum, in cooperation with the Office for IT and e-Government and UNDP.

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