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On a blind date with vision

Mr. R. Sudhir, a visually challenged executive of FACT, has been successfully using the reading softwares JAWS and OPENBOOK, which will be on display at the Ernakulam Public Library on February 5. So, happy reading to the beneficiaries, says PRIYADARSSHINI SHARMA



Mr. R. Sudhir using the softwares JAWS and OPENBOOK, which makes reading possible for the visually impaired

THE ERNAKULAM Public Library is expanding its parameters to include the visually impaired as a part of their esteemed readers. Quite unbelievable, but true. Encouraged by the success of a software for the blind and persons with low vision, and inspired by a visually impaired executive of FACT, Mr. R. Sudhir, the library management is all set to launch a reading room for the visually challenged.

Stricken by visual impairment in the middle of his life, Mr. Sudhir, braved cruel fate stoically. Highly qualified, dynamic and a go-getter, he has weathered his handicap and overcome it greatly. " It is not that I am my cheerful self at all times, but the use of these soft wares has restored my confidence to a great extent. I am returning into the stream of things once again. Given the Indian situation, the economically backward segment has many with impaired vision. Their resources to avail individual computerised help are impossible. With such soft wares at public places, like in a library or a cyber café as in Worli, Mumbai, will help this group of people."

Using two software packages, JAWS and OPENBOOK, Mr. Sudhir is able to do audio assisted reading and thus continue with his office work. It is this reading software for the visually impaired that the Ernakulam Public Library is to install after an exhibition of the software on February 5.

Says Mr. C. Ravindranath, Secretary of the library; " Our prime aim in setting up this software is to help the blind and people with impaired vision. NAB or the National Association for the Blind, Kerala Branch, is successfully using this reading software at their centre at Thiruvananthpuram. They are bringing the entire project to be displayed at the Library next month. We are hoping to get sponsors for the project, which in its entirety will cost Rs 3.2 lakhs. On our part we have written to major banks, government organisations, private corporate bodies and we hope for a positive response. As the management, we will do everything within our means to encourage the reading habit. Very many of our regular readers have slowly stopped using the library because of old age related poor vision or bad eyesight as a side effect of illness. With this new software, they can delve once again into books and experience the joy of reading."

Strongly audio assisted, the JAWS and OPENBOOK software is user-friendly. The user has to know or learn simple typing skills and by striking a key on the keyboard, a corresponding sound will lead them on to vistas of text, which they would otherwise be unable to access. JAWS is for electronic files and OPENBOOK is for printed documents. The most sophisticated machine is the Galileo Reader, which is very helpful for people who are not computer savvy. Similar to a Xerox machine, the user has only to familiarise oneself to a minimum of five buttons and when a text is placed, it begins to be read.

Says Dr. N. Ajith Kumar, the treasurer of the library and a friend of Mr. Sudhir's, "We plan to have the reading room facilities open for nearly the whole day. In timings too, we want to be very flexible as to accommodate the readers at their convenience. For the visually challenged members we are waiving the caution deposit. The motive is to reach out to people with low vision. This whole idea is Mr Sudhir's, whose spirit and optimism has been instrumental in planning such a facility in the library."

Says Sudhir, the inspiration behind it all, "I use JAWS in my office for mailing and can access the Internet easily. The multimedia needs to be connected to a scanner and with the selected book being placed on the scanner the audio is activated and the text beautifully read out. As of now the only small drawback is that the reading software is in English, and may be a hindrance to people who are not at ease with the language. Some initial language hurdles are in usage of words like, `zee' for `z' and `period' for `full stop'. I.I.T, Chennai, is in the process of making the Indian version of the software, in Indian English and other Indian languages after which the efficacy of the product will be extremely far reaching."

Sounds simple, and "it is," says the user, Sudhir, whose experience of the product and its implementation in the library will help a large number of people for whom the joy of reading is not easily possible.

Thus a blind date with destiny has after all ended as a gift of vision.

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