[AI] Article from DIGIT February 2008 magazine

Dinesh Kaushal dineshkaushal at hotmail.com
Fri Feb 15 05:58:26 EST 2008

There seem to be some factual things wrong. For example, Manish Agrawal had
started working as a software developer before 2000, I am not sure when.

I myself had started working around 2003 as fulltime, although I had worked
with microsoft India in year 2001, and with TPB (a sweedish organization who
is also one of the promoters of DAISY) in 2002.

Dinesh Kaushal

blog at 

-----Original Message-----
From: accessindia-bounces at accessindia.org.in
[mailto:accessindia-bounces at accessindia.org.in] On Behalf Of Prashant Naik
Sent: Friday, February 15, 2008 3:02 PM
To: accessindia at accessindia.org.in
Subject: [AI] Article from DIGIT February 2008 magazine

Digital Leisure-Touched By Tech DIGIT FEBRUARY 2008

*No Holds Barred*

By Samir Makwana

Today, if you ask a visually- challenged person conversant with computers
about Braille or Talking Libraries, don't be surprised if he says, "They're
so last decade!" Technology has broadened their horizons. What follows is
about what it's like right now. what's happening in India, and what people
are doing.

*The IT industry has expressed the interest in employing visually challenged
individuals through NGOs like Enable India*

*Technology now helps the visually- challenged hear things the can't see*

*They Aren't Sitting Idle*

Shanti Raghavan, founder and managing trustee, Enable India (a charitable
trust that helps people with disabilities), avers, "Technology has proved to
be a boon for visually- challenged people. It's due to technology that these
individuals are now able to pursue education, entertainment and most
importantly, employment to make their lives better and more meaningful."

(The term "visually- challenged" refers to those who have entirely lost
their sight as well as those with very poor vision.)

In 2002-03, Krishnakant Mane became India's first visually-challenged IT
engineer. Inspired by friends with engineering backgrounds, he started off
on GNU/ Linux, and began promoting the *Free as in Freedom* philosophy.
Today, Mane is a free software developer, teacher and an activist who works
with Dr. Nagarjuna, Computer Head at Homi Bhabha Centre for Science
Education, Mumbai. Mane is currently co-developing Orca, a free
screen-reading software for GNU/ Linux meant for the visually-challenged.

Jotindra Mehta is known among his peers for his proficiency in IBM mainframe
technology. He currently works with IBM Global Services India as Advisory
Software Engineer. Born blind, Mehta is India's first software programmer to
have been awarded the Shell Helen Keller Award (in 2004) by the National
Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled Persons.

Raghavan goes on to say- with no mention of names, though- "A shy group of
three people with limited knowledge of the world are now working in the
challenging field of medical transcription. It requires perfection- being
very careful with spelling- which they mastered in the face of several

There are many other visually-challenged individual who have learnt to earn
their living with the help of technology. The dynamism of their talent has
taken them beyond basic data entry work or writing code to software
development and even troubleshooting.

*Getting Them Up To Speed*

Screen readers, text-to-speech reading software, and other things which
we'll soon mention, are crucial aids: they enable differently-abled people
to perform various tasks, by helping them learn how to use technology for
education, their main occupation, and of course, entertainment. They are, in
short, intended to make them independent.

In the last decade and a half, screen readers, screen magnifiers,
text-to-speech software, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software
has evolved to a great degree. These aids, along with text-to-speech
software, audio book readers, and more have fuelled the hunger for knowledge
in visually-impaired people.

A number of cyber-cafes, Government supported training centres, and NGOs
imparting computer courses to visually-challenged people are functional
across India. Resource centres at colleges, like Xavier's Resource Centre
for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) at Mumbai, managed by Dr Sam
Taraporewala, imparts computer training to the visually impaired using
various technological aids and state-of-the-art computers.

"Along with screen readers, screen magnifiers, and book players, we use
other hardware-based aids like Mountbatten MB Pro (a talking / typing
Brailler), SARA (Scanning and Reading Appliance), Prisma (a CCTV-based
device for low-vision users) and Zoom Ex (an instant photo scanner)," says
Prashant Naik, Training and Development Officer, XRCVC. The Centre also
serves as a test-bench for upcoming Web sites to check for accessibility
features and software meant to help the visually-challenged cope with

At these junctions, computer training courses are offered to make the
visually-challenged conversant with basic packages like Microsoft Office and
with the Internet. "Besides computer-centric training, we at Enable India
provide training programmes that involve the development of communication
skills in English, analytical skills, and error-proofing techniques to help
the visually-challenged perform well even in difficult situations-that is,
those where proper eyesight would be considered a must," says Raghavan.

We're now seeing several instances where the visually-challenged are
employed for even challenging tasks. The IT industry has expressed
tremendous interest in employing such individuals through NGOs like Enable
India, as part of their social responsibility. Enable India provides, for
the visually-challenged, workplace solutions involving job identification,
system configuration, and troubleshooting.

*The Next Step*

Three major areas where development is taking place on a major scale in
India in terms of software are:

1)     Indian-sounding text-to-speech synthesiser engines for screen readers

2)     Tactile imaging embossers (embossers that convert images to embossed
dots), and

3)     Screen readers for different browsers.

The Internet being the ocean of knowledge that it is, a majority of the
developments in existing and upcoming software is taking place for better
Web accessibility.

Loads of screen readers, as well as tools like Opera's voice-commands
feature are available, but why aren't Indian citizens being made aware of
them? Well, there is the accent problem with us Indians, and not every Web
page is designed with a screen reader in mind.

Web pages scripted with different languages-for instance, AJAX carrying
dynamic JavaScript-make it difficult for screen reader software like JAWS to
cope. To combat the browser issue, Mane, with other global developers, is
working on the Accessibility functions in the Firefox browser. He believes
that Web pages should be formatted using W3C-certified scripting languages.

The cheaper and affordable Indian-version screen reader called SAFA (Screen
Access For All) is under development, led by Dipendra Manocha, director for
IT and Services at the National Association for the Blind (NAB). Manocha
also works as assistant project manager for DAISY for All-India, a project
of the DAISY consortium; DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) is an
open standard used for developing tools such as digital talking books.

At XRCVC, e-Signs (banking software for the visually-challenged) is being
tested and developed by CMC Ltd; it was conceptualised by the Centre. This
software will help banks with thumb-print recognition reach an expected
accuracy closer to 100 per cent for thumb-prints by the visually-challenged.
Besides, the Centre recently tested an open source screen reader called
AccesibilityWorks, developed by IBM, which works with Firefox on Linux.

On the open source front, at LinuxAsia 2007, Klaus Knopper with his wife
Adriane (who is visually-impaired) announced the development of Adriane
Knoppix, a free operating system (GNU/Linux) specially for the
visually-challenged. An IT student of Agra College recently developed
E-Netra, a device using which the visually-challenged will hear the text
they can't read; it's a gadget with a zoom lens and unique software.

(Picture in the book of Krishnakant Mane talking to software developers and
students, helping them understand what the visually challenged need from

*"Go Open Source"*

Mane reminds us that almost 80 per cent of Web servers run on
GNU/Linux-based operating systems. IT giants and many big multinationals now
use GNU/Linux-based OSes for their servers.

Now, though GNU/Linux-based OSes and programs are free, why is the common
man still unaware of their benefits? Mane laments, "Free-of-cost programs
are very costly, as the willingness to share is rare. If the government and
people gain some awareness soon, they'll realise the benefits of viable and
affordable open source systems over the costly proprietary ones that lack
Indian speech synthesis and language support."

This idea has hit Kerala state. Today, over 80 IT resource centres provide
training facilities to people in rural areas as well as to
visually-challenged people on computers running open source OSes with the
Orca screen reader installed for the benefit of the latter.

(Picture in the book of Krishnakant Mane comfortably working on his laptop)

*Future Expectations*

Like J K Rowling wrote in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, "It is
not our abilities but our choices which make us what we are."
Visually-challenged people are ready to take up the challenges of life-now
with technology at their side. Many tech evangelists have predicted that the
future of computing is mobile; usage patterns seem to indicate the truth of

Neha Trivedi, Project Officer, XRCVC, says, "In the near future, a
multifunction portable gadget / device that can do nearly most functions
will increase the flexibility of performing tasks like text-reading,
scanning, and the use of speech technology almost anywhere. This could make
the visually-challenged more independent."

Various aids, including software, audio players, and multifunctional gadgets
do exist for the visually-challenged. But they're expensive for the most
part, and quite unaffordable for most of those who need them.

You can help. Donate old working PCs to IT resource centres run by your
state government, or trusts for the visually challenged, or at NGOs like
Enable India and many more (take a look at the Touched by Tech section in
our July 2007 issue). At the Talking Libraries and resource centres-like
XRCVC in Mumbai-you can volunteer to scan printed material for conversion to
audio-books. A lot of people will be happy.

* List of Tools Currently Used In India*

*This list represents software widely used in India; it is not exhaustive.*

Software and hardware aids widely used by various NGOs and Resource Centres


*JAWS*: Job Access With Speech is a proprietary screen reading software that
converts text to speech and reads it out at an adjustable place, with
options for voice (male/female), tone, languages, and speech engines.


*ORCA*: An open source application for the visually challenged with many
features, including a speech synthesiser; it supports Braille and also a
text magnifier.


*Emacspeak*: An open source text-to-speech interface meant for
visually-challenged users as an enabler to browse the Web and use various
programs without assistance.


*SAFA (Screen Access For All)*: A cheaper alternative to the JAWS screen
reader, which uses an Indian-sounding synthesiser for the speech engine.


*Mobilespeak*: A screen reader application with Braille support for Symbian
Series 60 Edition cell phones.


*TALKS*: A screen reader that supports 20 languages on Symbian Series 60


*Call History*: Software that allows visually-impaired users to hear a
description of dialled, missed, and received calls, along with
voice-prompt-based navigation. www.tinfomobile.com/ Applications.html


MAGic: Screen magnification software with hotkeys different from those in


*ZoomText*: A text magnifier and reading software for low-vision users.


* *

*Talking Typing Teacher*: Meant for novices as well as advanced users, this
is a typing tutor with speech used for every function


*Braille*: Duxbury's Braille Translator Software that provides translation,
formatting, and word-processing facilities to automate the process of
working from regular text to Braille and vice-versa.


*WinBraille*: A Braille editor meant for Index Braille embossers.

*Shree-Lipi Braille (Indian-language Braille translation software)*:

Has support for Indian languages including Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit,
Gujarati, and others, with the main function of enabling translation of text
to Braille. The file created can be used with a Braille embosser to print
out content in Braille. www.modular-infotech.com/html/braille.html


* *

*AMIS*: (Adaptive Multimedia Information System) for the DAISY Book Reader

An open source book-reading software for talking books saved in the DAISY
format, with support for South Asian languages.

End of Article

prashant naik
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