[AI] Taking books to the disabled

Gopalakrishnan gopalakrishnan_vip at yahoo.co.in
Sun Apr 27 21:08:43 EDT 2008

Taking books to the disabled 

R. Sujatha 

Bookshare.org is world's largest online library for them 

- Photo: R. Shivaji Rao 
James R. Fruchterman. 

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 impaired. 

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." 

Source: "The Hindu", date: 28-04-2008

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