many children in India, a visual handicap almost invariably leads to virtual
isolation from the community. We have seen the manner in which these children
struggle to come up in life, often sacrificing their education for a job
that can at best allow them a daily allowance.
While it is true that
computers have not reached even normal schools in the rural areas, getting
the visually handicapped children to learn to use them, seems certainly
far fetched. The IIT team has been fortunate enough to win the friendship
of voluntary organizations in the country which are involved in projects
of social relevance. These organizations willingly came forward to offer
training to the visually handicapped in different parts of the country,
using the IITM sound enhanced applications.
Over the past six
years (1999 - 2005), more than three hundred persons working in institutions
for the visually handicapped have been trained and the warm response we
have received from them has been overwhelming. We feel gratified that besides
meeting a technical challenge, we have also been able to contribute to
a social cause. We acknowledge with gratitude, the extensive moral support
and encouragement we have received from persons associated with Institutions
for the disabled, to pursue the development of Multilingual systems to
facilitate use by the disabled as well.
at IIT Madras
Our development of
systems for the disabled is still at a stage of infancy when compared to
solutions available in the west for the English speaking person. We are
however encouraged by the acceptance of the following applications for
the visually handicapped.
Braille which permits text in Indian languages to be read through the conventional
six dot system. Braille codes (Bharati Braille) have been recommended for
Indian language aksharas and the IITM software can generate the language
specific Braille codes or simply the Roman transliteration of the text.
The document can mix Braille text in the vernacular with English Braille.
Text to speech output
in Indian languages using Sound cards on Computers. Sound is synthesized
from the unique internal representation of the Indian language text and
can be effected without additional processing such as a dictionary lookup.
Speech may be produced on the fly and the result is quite clear and intelligible
though lacking in intonation and accent.
The MBROLA speech
engine has been used in this application and as of now, there is a slight
European accent to the speech output. The applications worth mentioning
in this connection are, Multilingual Editor enhanced with speech, Jaws
for Dos adapted to work under Windows and Linux without external synthesizers
and speech enhanced Lynx for browsing the internet.
As on February 2006, several applications useful to the Visually handicapped
have been enhanced with text to speech capabilities. Please refer to the
links on the right for additional information about these applications.
The most useful aspect
of the multilingual software is its ability to work transparently across
the languages of the country as well as in English. Hence the process of
training a disabled person or for that matter the trainer himself/herself,
is simple and straightforward. The computer opens up new possibilities
for disabled children when they begin to experiment with it as an effective
tool to communicate with the others. Also, the volunteer organizations
have used the software to disseminate information on the web in a manner
which appeals to educators and trainers working in different institutions
for the disabled.
The Software developed for use by the Visually handicapped
is described in the linked page
services provided at this site.
Consistent with the
idea that the web represents a very important resource for the people of
the world, the Acharya web site offers the following services to help the
cause of the disabled.
On-line tutorials to learn Braille
Service to provide Braille documents
created through a web interface
Online school lessons for the
General references on disability
Vrikshah's Disability Research Center and Training Programs.
The volunteer organization
Vidya Vrikshah which has promoted the use of the IITM Software, has set
up a Disability Research Center and offers regular training programs for
the disabled. These training programs are offered free and typically run
for three days during which the disabled person is trained in the use of
the software. A copy of the software is also given free for the person
to have the same installed in his/her computer.
Vrikshah web site has several pages of useful information relating
to disabilities. Several of these pages are carried in the vernacular.