[AI] Taking Books to the Disabled

rambabu adikesavalu rambabu_arb at yahoo.com
Sun Apr 27 06:32:50 EDT 2008

The Hindu
Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Sunday, Apr 27, 2008
Tamil Nadu

Taking books to the disabled 
— Photo: R. Shivaji Rao 
James R. Fruchterman. 

Students start out with ideas to benefit the deprived and the poor, but 
      often, the need for material benefits propels them away from altruistic 
      thoughts. Some, however, revisit their ideas and work on them. 
      One such person who carried forward his idea of helping the blind read is 
      James R. Fruchterman (Jim), president of Benetech Initiative, U.S. During 
      his recent visit to Chennai, R. Sujatha spoke to him about his plans for 
      Jim was fascinated with military intelligence technology as a student at 
      the California Institute of Technology. He wondered if a particular 
      technology, used to pick out an object and blow it up, could be used to 
      pick out words and enhance them. The idea remained in his head but it was 
      several years before he could act on it. After working as an electronic 
      engineer in a rocket company where the push of a button led to a rocket 
      blowing up before take off, he was back in Silicon Valley pondering over 
      his idea of helping the visually impaired. 
      His boss from the rocket company was also part of the character 
      recognition company that Jim set up with an investment of $25 million. But 
      investors wanted returns and were not pleased with the idea of social 
      service efforts, such as developing reading systems for the visually 
      The seed for his project, sown in 1982, bore fruit in 1989 when he founded 
      Arkenstone, a non-profit organisation. It became the world’s largest 
      provider of reading systems serving 35,000 persons with disabilities in 60 
      countries. Ten years later, he sold the $5 billion enterprise and used it 
      to launch Benetech Initiative in 2000. 
      One December evening in 1999, when he returned from work, he found new 
      software installed in his personal computer. Upset that someone had 
      tampered with his computer, he wanted to know who had done it. His 
      14-year-old son owned up and played Jim’s favourite music using Napster 
      and Jim was hooked. “He spent a whole hour with me. That’s a miracle and I 
      learnt a very cool technology,” he recalls. 
      He decided to do the same with books. “What my son did was illegal but 
      getting books to the blind is legal.” And he set up Bookshare.
      Today, Bookshare.org is the world’s largest online book library for 
      persons with disabilities. The library offers them membership at 
      subsidised rates and provides 3,000 current copyrighted books (published 
      over the last 20 years) and 4,000 public domain books, including those 
      published since 1923. All major American newspapers are also available. 
      Bookshare has fiction and non-fiction, trade books, 1,000 Spanish books, 
      700 IT books and 100 children’s books.
      Mr. Fruchterman says he wants to take the tools to people who need them 
      most. “The visually impaired in India will pay Rs.400 to sign up and read 
      books. I am meeting publishers to scan books and text books for Indian 
      readers. It is better you have a clear exemption [in copy right laws for 
      such organisations]” he points out. His company has already tied up with a 
      couple of Indian publishers. 
      “Publishers have a social responsibility,” he says. “Today we are in India 
      where we were in the U.S. six years ago. In a few years in India, we will 
      have 20,000 books, best sellers and educational text books.”

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