Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India

E-text services for Visually Handicapped students in India.

  The Acharya web site is pleased to host electronic versions of  text books and reference material used by students in schools and colleges in India. This is a service provided by Voluntary Organizations in the country serving the cause of the Visually Handicapped. The service is restricted to hosting only the books and reference material directly related to the programs of study in schools and colleges of India. The target audience is the community of Visually Handicapped students who have enrolled themselves in schools and colleges. The electronic texts cover basic school text books prescribed for students in different classes from class six to twelve as well as students pursuing higher studies in colleges. Subjects covered here do not include science topics as of now.

  The Acharya site hosts only those e-texts which are free from copyright issues. In the case of texts presented in these pages, permission from the authors who have written the books, publishers or the Authorities responsible for school education have been granted to the Voluntary Organizations to transcribe the books into a format suitable for presenting on a web page. Text in Indian languages is presented in a special transliterated format so that they can be displayed by web browsers without the need for additional software support. The display will not be in the local script but the special speech enhanced web browser distributed freely by IIT Madras will be able to read out the text.

  All the text books in all regional languages are not guaranteed to be available here, for it might not have been possible for volunteer organizations to receive the required copies. Also in some states, school authorities have not endorsed the idea of hosting books on the web.

  Volunteer Organizations are making their best efforts to provide reference material prepared by their members to be quickly hosted at this site for the benefit of the students. Such texts will supplement the lessons in the text books and will generally be easier for the students to follow. Specific tutorials are also being proposed which will help the Visually Handicapped students gain additional knowledge through self study.

Mode of Use

   We suggest that Organizations for the Visually handicapped setup a small centre, where four or five students may access the texts either from locally stored files or through the internet. Vidya Vrikshah in Chennai have developed special training modules for students to learn the use of this technology and their experience may be utilized for the training. Often, we have seen parents of Visually handicapped children coming forward to share their resources, which they have set up for their children, with others.

E-texts in Indian Languages

  The problems associated with the us of computers in Indian languages are well known since the writing systems used are based on syllables and not the letters of the alphabet. While attempts have been made to represent syllables through encoding standards such as ISCII and Unicode, the variable length nature of encoding causes difficulties with text processing. Even within India, there is not much unanimity among the professionals to follow specific standards. Under the circumstances, one does not see any e-book in Indian languages. The attempt at IIT Madras to provide localization in Indian languages is perhaps one of the first attempts at providing a solution that works. The format of the text prepared conforms to the syllable level coding proposed by IITM and utilities convert this representation to a format suitable for exchange across computers. This special format is a transliteration into Roman of the syllables. The text can be received by email or just ny kind of file transfer and the local language information retrieved through simple but effective utilities.

  A web page containing Indian language text specially prepared for the visually handicapped students, will display the content in English but the sound enhanced browser SELYNX, will be able to discern the presence of such text and read the same for the benefit of the viewer. This browser is an enhanced version of Lynx, the standard text based web browser. Selynx is freely given to all the Visually handicapped users who have access to a computer.

E-texts in English

  The texts in the English Language hosted at this site cover books recommended for use by students pursuing higher studies in Universities. The list here includes text books recommended for the students of Delhi University. Professor Vinod Sena, who has pioneered the movement of Talking Books for students has been instrumental in collecting the information from various sources. It is entirely possible that students in other Universities in India and the South Asian region could use these books.

  E-texts and e-books in the English language are copies of texts freely distributed on the Internet. These include books provided by project Gutenburg as well as other e-texts which are free from copyright. At this site, we have effected additional formatting of the texts to permit visually handicapped students to locate the texts easily as well as navigate through the chapters and sections of the books. Such formatting has been done by Voluntary Organizations with the view to simplify access and reference to the texts hosted here.

Notes on accessing the texts: An explanation of the organization of the contents.

The e-texts may be accessed from this site in two or three different ways.
According to the program of study towards a specific Degree
  Here, a link will take the student to a page listing the books available for his/her program of study. the list may further be organized by subjects studied in each semester.
According to the general interest of the student.
 Here the list is organized under subject categories so that a student may directly go to the section dealing with the subject and see the available texts. This organization will be helpful for students who have to read general books and not specific titles.
According to authors and titles.
 Here an alphabetically arranged list of Authors of books as well as Titles is presented. The student may directly access the e-text from the links provided with each entry.

For the benefit of the viewers, we have provided detailed information relating to this service from IIT Madras. The details are given in the form of questions and answers. Viewers are urged to read this section before accessing the e-texts.

What is meant by serving e-texts?
  E-texts are replicas of the contents of printed versions of books. They represent text stored in Electronic form for use with computers. E-texts are easily distributed through computer storage media and now, on the internet. A person reading E-text will view the text on the computer screen and use the arrow keys on the keyboard to move around the text as well as quickly locate chapters and sections from a contents page.

 A number of classic books have been prepared in Electronic form for free use by the World Community, thanks to projects such as "Project Gutenburg". E-texts are very useful for people in countries where procurement of printed books is difficult. Today, many books prescribed for reading by students in schools and colleges are already available as e-texts.

Visually Handicapped persons can have a computer program read out the text on the screen through synthesized voice and this is very appealing to a  person who cannot see and has no access to Braille based resources. Due to the increasing use of computers and their acceptance in many walks of life, their use by the disabled persons has assumed importance and significance.

E-texts can be put on a central computer and made accessible to a large number of persons simultaneously. This is known as serving e-texts through computers or the internet.

Why is IIT Madras providing this service?
  Systems Development Laboratory, IIT Madras has pioneered the development of software tools for applications supporting user interfaces in Indian languages. These include applications supporting text to speech output in Indian languages and the speech enhanced editor. These applications have been well received by the community of the Visually Handicapped in India and IIT Madras has received requests from several volunteer organizations to provide web based  texts for the benefit of visually Handicapped students. The Acharya web site, set up at the laboratory, has already distinguished itself through the on-line lessons for learning Sanskrit. It would be easy to extend a similar service to the visually handicapped students who would read the lessons required for their examinations.

As of this date (August 2002), there are no sites in India which offer multilingual texts for the benefit of the students. The Acharya site is well equipped with the software needed for this purpose and so it was decided that the e-text service be added.

Is this service targeted at a specific Audience?
  The e-text service is aimed at helping the students who are visually handicapped. Text served from the acharya server is provided in a specific format suitable for text to speech synthesis using the IITM software. This text, when  displayed in normal browsers will not be seen in the respective regional languages but in some special transliterated form. Thus the text will be meaningfully understood only when rendered through the synthesizer. Hence users who are sighted are not likely to get any specific benefits by viewing the text in the transliterated form.
Why is this provided through the Internet, even though the visually handicapped community has virtually no access to computers?
  Over the years, volunteer groups have promoted the use of the software from IITM, specifically the applications with speech enhancement. Volunteers have been able to provide computer resources at their homes or schools or other self help organizations, where the visually handicapped can get trained and also gain access to the resources. It is anticipated that slowly, the number of computers available for such use will increase. One is optimistic that through the multiplier effect, a good number of visually handicapped students will have computer access.
What kind of Software is required for reading the text by the Visually Handicapped?
  The software required for this purpose is called a screen reader, a program that can read out the contents of the computer screen. The JAWS application is a very popular screen reader but works only for English. IIT Madras has adapted a freely distributed version of JAWS to work with modern computers and so in effect one gets a free screen reader for English text.

   The main advantage of the IITM software is the ability to support screen reading functions for Indian language text. The multilingual editor and the speech enhanced web browser both provide screen reading functions which will be of great help to students in india.

Will this service include the text books for all the Visually Handicapped students in all the regions of India?
  In principle the answer should be "yes" but it will take time to get the electronic versions prepared. the IITM software works well with all the Indian languages and so the problem of content creation is greatly simplified through the use of a single application.

  The problem of copyright has to be handled properly since there is no guarantee that the publishers of school text books will permit free reproduction. It is anticipated that given the specific cause, such permission is more likely to be granted than rejected.

  Initially, the books will cover only those subjects where the text is simple without mathematical signs or other symbols. Later, one hopes to include texts in mathematics or science where Nemeth Braille may be used to present the pages.

What are the organizations involved in this service?
   This service was envisaged by the volunteers of Vidya Vrikshah in Chennai, who work closely with IIT Madras. Vidya Vrikshah offer free training programs in the use of computers and the IITM software applications for the disabled. In future volunteers already trained at Vidya Vrikshah may provide help to students elsewhere in the country.
Will any person be able to access this site to read a book that is required for his/her school or college education?
  Yes.  The Acharya and Vidya Vrikshah web sites disseminate information free of cost by providing meaningful online services. Any one can access these web sites and get the benefit of the contents. The contents can generally be seen on most browsers.
E-texts are already available on the internet. What is the need for this service?
  True, but these are all in English. Also, the existing books are not in a format that allows easy navigation through the contents, an important requirement for the Visually Handicapped.  The service from IIT Madras will include additional information as well. Most importantly, books in Indian languages are not available yet and the IIT Madras service may be the first of its kind.
What about copyright issues?
  The texts made available online will not violate copyright requirements. Many books will not require specific permission from the authors, if they had already been made available free on the net. School textbooks are likely to be offered by the Boards for Education in different states. One does not envisage any particular problem here.
Who selects the titles for hosting at this site?
  The titles are generally taken from the list of reading material prescribed for schools and colleges in India. prof. Vinod Sena, a veteran father like figure for the Visually handicapped in Delhi, has collected an important list and this will be used first in the online service. One expects that from time to time, the Boards of Education in different states will themselves offer us the lists.