Limited resources have also restricted the reach of efforts of individuals and organisations to help the disabled in India and also confined their efforts to providing low levels of education and skills to small numbers. Can Information Technology be adapted to meet the education and skill needs of the disabled millions among the poor in India ?
One fundamental step lies
in finding a simple and inexpensive Software solution for
the massive and complex problem of handling the Indian languages on Computers.
Thereafter it is a matter of enhancing the software with voice aids or
other assistive aids to help a person
with visual or other disabilities to use the computer exactly as
a normal person would. Such a solution
has now been developed as a Software Package and made available for the
first time in India by the Indian Institute of
Technology, Chennai. This Software handles
all Indian languages through a single uniform
solution resting on their common phonetic
structure. It uses the universal computer keyboard so that the
same key that produces an
English letter also produces the corresponding letters
of all Indian languages which produce the same sound. The Software has been designed to provide a simple user-friendly way of helping people, even without any knowledge of computers, including persons with visual or other disabilities, to learn how to use computers in their own mother tongue, within a few days.
This solution is thus geared
to bring the benefits of computer usage along with education
in their own mother tongue, to the poor and illiterate, including the blind
or otherwise disabled, throughout the country. The Software is given free,
in order to save the overhead of software
cost which would otherwise be considerable. It is common knowledge
that a good typist, whether sighted or not, types
by touch and not by sight. While the Visually Handicapped will therefore
have no difficulty in quickly mastering Computer keyboard input, the difficulty
arises in recognising and responding to the Computer screen
output. The solution provided by the IITM Software is to provide for a
voice rendering of the screen output and to give the user complete operational
through designated keys on the keyboard, as described below.
Thus when the main Editor programme of the Package is invoked, it announces each step like it's being ready, it's opening of a new file, or opening of the file whose name has been typed in. The language chosen for entry is also announced. When text is entered, each letter, or punctuation mark, word and line is spoken. When entry of text has been completed, pressing designated keys cause the text to be read one line at a time, or from the beginning to the end of the file, while pressing another designated key announces the number of the screen line which has been read. The cursor can then be moved to the beginning or end of an entered file, to any desired screen line, to its beginning or end or to any position within the screen line, with all these positions announced. Any insertion or deletion or correction can be made at the point where the speech had indicated need for this. Saving the file and exiting from the programme by pressing designated keys are also announced. And all these speech responses of the Computer are in the Indian language or in English as selected by the user.
The computer-generated speech
is monotone. The fastidious sighted user may not be
entirely satisfied with the speech quality, but the Visually Handicapped
have found it more than adequate,
and indeed consider it a blessing. Improving speech quality or adding other
useful features or utilities like adaptation to Web usage, extending
coverage to other Indian and foreign languages, adding new capabilities
like text-to-speech, etc are all part of an ongoing process
to which the
IIT Chennai is committed. Viewers will find it rewarding to visit the website
of the IIT Chennai at http://acharya.iitm.ac.in for
(a) more information on a wide range of utilities that have been developed and offered free; and
(b) the most comprehensive technical and operational information available anywhere, on language computing from both an IT and a linguistic perspective.
Users of today may therefore feel reassured that updates, revisions and enhancements of the software will continue to be made freely available. No comparable language computing software or commitment of free ongoing support is available from any commercial or public domain source in India or elsewhere.
Vidya Vrikshah's Centre
for Disability Research, Development and Training has started a programme
for training Disabled persons, Trainers drawn from Institutions and also
Volunteers from the community, who are already engaged in providing other
services to disabled persons, in the use of this Software. Trainees are
given the Software and training its use free of cost. It is envisaged
that such training will enable them to :
(a) Pursue courses of study or training at home, or the homes of Trainer Volunteers,
or Training Centres or Institutions where lessons can be read to them by the
computer, or can be supplied to them in the form of ink-print or Braille embossed output.
(b) Qualify for employment in jobs involving use of computers. (The Software is also give free to employers for use in places where disabled persons are employed)
(c) Pursue new employment opportunities, eg Job typing, Data Entry, Production of computerised texts needed by disabled persons etc.
The regular Courses (apart from ad hoc individualised courses) are held once a week, with a 3 day duration, beginning every Monday, with a maximum of 8 particopants in each course. As of 01-01-2002, the Training Centre has trained nearly 250 persons from all over the country.
Vidya Vrikshah's Centre for Disability Research, Development & Training is actively engaged in design and development of more IT-based Hardware and Software Solutions to meet the needs of Literacy, Education and Skills Training in the Local Laguages, using the Multilingual Software Package of the IIT Chennai as the springboard. These solutions have been developed by Volunteers of Vidya Vrikshah, who include Engineers and others with extensive expertise and experience in the areas of Information Technology and Disability. Details of these solutions can be seen in other pages of this Website on our Disability Projects and Programmes.
Our approach is that
these solutions should reach the socially, economically and physically
disadvantaged sections of society, not merely in India, but in other countries
as well, at nominal or no cost. Except where proprietary rights have been
retained and to the extent that conditions for usage have been explicitly
stated by the contributor-authors, the solutions may be used
freely, provided the usage is in the context of free service to the socially
and physically disadvantaged. It is expected that the spirit in which and
purpose for which these solutions are offered is respected, and such
usage is acknowledged to Vidya Vrikshah.
Vidya Vrikshah also functions an Institutional Member & Implementing Agency of INTEND (INformation Technology ENablers for persons with Disabilities) an umbrella organisation set up to implement the recommendations of the INTEND-2001 National Conference held in Chennai in June, 2001. Details and presentations of INTEND can be viewed at its Website at http://www.intend2001.org.in.
The following link provides
a list of persons (as of 01-05-2002) who have participated in the training
courses of Vidya Vrikshah. Individuals and Institutions wishing to also
participate can get directly contact any one of them residing in their
proximity for any details and feedback on the courses.