Software for Accessibility for the Blind- Meet 1

Dr. Sai Jagan Mohan had emailed us last week describing something he had in mind- a project which entailed discovering programs to enable the blind, especially students to efficiently use a PC, both for academic (say, reading a text or having it read to them), as well as recreational activities (Eg: Listening to music, playing games, etc), and possibly to design a program to help them learn how to use it. I got in touch with him expressing my interest, and he asked me and a few others to meet him today. There, we discussed a number of points:

    1.  OpenSource vs. Proprietary software: We discussed our perceptions of various advantages and disadvantages of both types, which include:
        • Proprietary software is generally more popular to use and is easier.
        • OpenSource software will be available much more easily, and free of cost
        • Most good OpenSource software is meant for Linux, while most PCs come with Windows by default, and Windows is generally accepted as being easier to use for a first timer

      At this point, I proposed a solution somewhere inbetween these: To use Windows Ease of Access options, Magnifier and Narrator: Not exactly OpenSource, but already bundled with Windows anyway (i.e., effectively free). We agreed on the idea, and none of us having much experience on these features, decided to try them out for ourselves.

    2. Why such software is hardly used in India : The main reason we came up with is that there is almost no awareness about them, and very few organisations and training programmes exist for the same. Further, many students come from a fairly uneducated background, and their parents don’t know how to find such information out, nor are the teachers of a visually impaired child able to guide him/her, as they themselves have little experience with such children. The solution: Talk to NGOs, in due time and have a tie up with them, that we may be able to reach out to these children with their (and possibly the government’s) help.
    1. Vernacular Languages: India, being the amazingly diverse nation that it is, has countless languages and dialects. Therefore, a difficulty a blind child is likely to face is actually understanding what the screen reader reads, not only as almost all readers are tailored to read in Western Languages (again, something we weren’t very sure of, and needed to research), but also the accent in which the narrator narrates, which might be difficult for a non-native Englih speaker to decipher. The solution? We decided that the best way of dealing with this was to teach the child English from a young age, although how the child will be able to understand the very different accent, we couldn’t decide.
    1. The difficulties they were likely to face: The main difficulty was likely to be actually get blind students accustomed to the PC, as well as to teach them English enough to omfortably ue the PC.
    1. What the students can use it for: We had in mind 2 primary goals: Recreation (something that can be enjoyed even without the sense of vision, like music, which also has songs in almost all Indian languages, and which crosses the barriers of language), as well as Education (for example, through audio books, either in English, or in their mother tongue), and perhaps something that melds the 2 together (like an educational game, perhaps).

All in all, it was a very good start, and we all agreed that our first focus should be on finding out the most convenient software for these students, in terms of both ease of access and availability, starting with the inbuilt features in Windows.

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