They hope Unicode format is handed over soon

Thousands of schoolchildren across the State are waiting for their textbooks. The wait for the visually impaired among them is bound to be a little longer.

Schools for the blind are waiting for the government to arrive at a decision to place orders with Braille printers in the State. Braille printing houses, on the other hand, are waiting with soft copies of the old syllabi and machinery to plan a quick printing and distribution.

“As soon as the books come out, we will have to assign the data entry work. It might take at least four months,” says S. M. A. Jinnah, founder and secretary, Indian Association for Blind, Madurai. “It will be nice if the government can hand the Unicode format to us straightaway before the books go for printing, but the officials are citing copyright issues.”

The association plans to utilise its entire staff of around 300 members, including college students and part-time workers to speed up the process. It is one of the three major Braille publishing houses in the State, the others being Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University, Coimbatore, and the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Poonamallee.

The two high-speed Braille machines at the NIVH churn out over five lakh pages a month, and so printing will take barely a week, says I. Arivanandham, Regional Director, NIVH. An average textbook may run up to 600 pages in Braille. And mathematics textbooks will be in two or three volumes.

But preparing the soft copy and then the subsequent sessions of conversions and proofreading might delay the printing, say officials of publishing houses. “Every year, the government takes two to three months after the start of the academic year to distribute Braille books. But this year the wait will be longer,” says Swami Anuragananda, Assistant Administrative Head, Faculty of Disability Management and Special Education, Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University.

Tough call

Proofreading and correcting are the tricky part of the job. A sighted person along with a visually challenged work together and they at their best can complete 30 pages a day, he adds.

Symbols and equations of mathematics and diagrams in science will take more time, and so will the Tamil books, say experts.

While software to convert English into Braille exists, translation of regional languages into Braille has to be done manually. “For this, we would require someone who knows Tamil, English, Braille and the six-key typing system. Finding such skilled people is a challenge,” says Mr. Arivanandham.

And the delay has parents worried. It will be extremely difficult for the visually challenged students to cope with the delay, says M. Ilango, father of visually challenged student I. Harish Prabhakar, who is a class VIII student at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya.

The association for the visually challenged is seized of the matter as well. R. Srinivasan, president, Association for the Rights of the Visually Challenged, Coimbatore, says the government must try to issue Braille books at the earliest as the challenges the visually challenged face are enormous. In addition to distributing laptops for students, the government must distribute tablets or tablet-like devices with software that will read the text with the touch of a finger, says Swami Anuragananda.

“We are prepared for the massive printing work, but we have to be informed soon. Keeping us waiting for books, while others have theirs ready would be really unfair,” says Mr. Jinnah.