| If celebrated poet John Milton were to have lost his sight in the present tech-savvy milieu, the World Wide Web would surely have opened the window to his world. While Milton's blindness in 1651 stimulated and enriched his verbal repertoire, making him among the most renowned poets of all time, intelligent software today allows the visually challenged to go online and chat, form online communities, download information and translate it into Braille text. |
Applying technology to compensate for a distinct physical disadvantage, the National Association for Blind (NAB) has started two cyber cafés in Mumbai and Delhi to help the visually challenged hit the information highway. A software called jaws reads everything on the webpage and the data is then transferred to the Internet user through headphones. The software also allows for voice input and output commands.
Funded by Microsoft, the cyber hubs in Delhi and Mumbai are equipped with state-of-the-art hardware and software-each requires an investment of Rs 5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh. "These cafés are unique to India and can be used both to gather information and also as an opportunity for the visually impaired to be gainfully employed," says Wing Commander C.M. Jaywant, executive director of NAB Mumbai. The cafés provide it resources like word processing, downloading and printing text in Braille. A nominal fee of Rs 10 is charged for surfing the Internet.
While the software converts the written word to speech format, users have to memorise keyboard commands because the interface is a combination of keyboard and voice commands. So to visit Google, the user can guide the mouse to the address location and say aloud 'Google' and the software automatically translates the verbal command into the written word, saving the visually challenged the effort of punching the word out on the keyboard. One needs to also get familiar with the distinctly American twang. At present, the software is viable only for English, but the Indian Institutes of Technology are working on modifying it so that it is able to recognise other languages as well.
NAB is in talks with Reliance Web Worlds to garner funds for more such cyber cafés that help penetrate the blanket of darkness to touch brilliant minds.