THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: There is not much by way of reading facilities for the visually challenged population in the State. While the vast majority has to make do with the help of others who read aloud for them, the practical impediments of Braille system make text books largely unavailable.
To help tide over these hurdles, Chakshumathi, an NGO based in the city, has come forward to help the visually impaired to walk into the world of books. ‘DAISY’ (Digitally Accessible Information System), introduced in the State by the organisation can hopefully assist the lakhs of visually challenged persons to tune into the world of information and knowledge.
Daisy is an international publication standard for the print disabled. A ‘reading without seeing’ publication technology, it is being used to create a digital talking books library for the blind and print disabled. By offering to its users information available in all languages including Malayalam, the technology can create a reading platform for the visually challenged in Kerala.
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995, the Right to Education Act 2009 and other similar laws guarantee rights of persons with disabilities including the print disabled. “But without adequate resources to learn, what is the significance of having such conventions and treaties,” asks Ram Kamal, Managing Trustee of Chakshumathi.
The NGO focuses on research, development and adoption of latest assistive technology for the upbringing and empowerment of the blind and visually challenged. Daisy is believed to prove beneficial not only for those with visual disability but also for the print disabled (visually impaired, learning disabled, orthopaedically challenged and others), enabling them to read and learn far more easily than in the past when the only options were braille and audio books.
“The State hardly has books for the visually challenged in Malayalam whether it be educational or general books. Reading using braille is time-consuming and is not user friendly in class rooms. Audio books too have limitations as it makes the user dependent on others and its not possible to navigate to contents or pages,” says Ram.
But Daisy makes the system user friendly as one can read page by page and can select the required material from the text at random.
The visually challenged are trained in the basics of computers and familairised in converting textual matter by using Daisy format. After the training, online assignments will be given to them by the organisation for which they are paid. This team of ten is the only organisation which has visually impaired people working under it. Ram had said that “only two percent of the Visually Challenged community of the 4 lakhs in Kerala has a decent job. The two major aims of Chakshumathi is to make them computer literate and to help them find a career by which they can earn a decent living.”
Their dream project is to prepare Daisy books for the state syllabus from classes 8-12 by June. “There are only 15 special schools in Kerala. In other schools the visually challenged are individually take care of only till the seventh grade. To make further education possible for these students, we are trying to give them training in Daisy. For those who have basic knowledge of computers it will hardly take a week’s time to learn it”, he says.
The materials made using ‘Daisy’ software can be read through computers, mobiles and with a daisy player. Softwares like JAWS, Kurzweil and others are used in the process. As of now, Chakshumathi has compiled 16 general books, a fortnightly online magazine called ‘Chakshumathi’ , ‘Executive Knowledge Line’ similar to ‘Reader’s Digest’ which are available online or in CD format which will be sent by post.
“Anyone who needs some material to be converted into ‘Daisy’ format is asked to produce the disability certificate, after which the work would be done for them,” says Ram. Chakshumathi, which conducts training all over Kerala at various universities and institutions, are planning to have a one week workshop in May on how to produce daisy books from recorded files, e-text books and audio files.
“On May 16, a science camp in association with IEEE (International Electrical and Electronic Engineers) is scheduled to be organised in the city aiming to bring more visually challenged into science and commerce streams,” says Noufal P, Mentor and Daisy Editor at Chakshumathi.