[AI] Article from DIGIT February 2008 magazine

Subramani L lsubramani at deccanherald.co.in
Fri Feb 15 07:27:14 EST 2008


During FOSS.IN and recent Open Source India Week, I met Krishnakant and
found him to be a truly inspiring character. 

Subramani 



-----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
challenges"

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
technology.

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
software)



*"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
this.

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



*SCREEN READERS*



*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.

www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/softwarejaws.asp



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

http://live.gnome.org/Orca



*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.

http://emacspeak.sourceforge.net



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



*MOBILE PHONES*



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

www.codefactory.es/en/products.asp?id=24



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

www.nuance.com/talks



*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



*SCREEN / TEXT MAGNIFIERS*

MAGic: Screen magnification software with hotkeys different from those
in
Windows.

www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/software_magic.asp



*ZoomText*: A text magnifier and reading software for low-vision users.
www.aisquared.com/index.cfm



*TYPING*

* *

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

www.braillebookstore.com/talking-typing-teacher.htm



*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.

www.duxburysystems.com/dbt.asp



*WinBraille*: A Braille editor meant for Index Braille embossers.
www.indexbrailleaccessibility.com/downloads/winbraille.htm



*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



*PLAYBACK SOFTWARE *

* *

*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

regards,
prashant naik
-- 
VISION WITHOUT ACTION IS MERELY A DREAM,
ACTION WITHOUT VISION JUST PASSES THE TIME,
VISION WITH ACTION CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.
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