Staff Reporter

CHENNAI: It is one thing to ensure literacy for all but another to provide opportunities to the ‘print-disabled,’ a segment that covers a wide spectrum of the visually challenged people. With technology widening its net to cover a larger population, it is only apt that it should be used for social benefit.

This was the underlying message at a seminar ‘Print Access for All’ sought to convey. Vidya Vrikshah, a non-governmental organisation that tries to take technology to the visually challenged, organised the seminar here on Saturday to discuss ways to help the print-disabled access copyrighted books, newspapers, audio and video clippings.

Speakers at the seminar, sponsored by The Hindu, felt that true inclusiveness was one in which publishers of such material made them available to the print-disabled population voluntarily, or in compliance with the laws that protected copyright and intellectual property rights. Though efforts were being made in isolation by a few NGOs, much more need to be done to make material already published or broadcast accessible.

Former Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishmamurthy called on voluntary organisations to help the Election Commission conduct a census of visually challenged persons. This would enable the Commission to evolve a system accessible to voters with disability. S. Ramakrishnan, Director-General, C-DAC, Pune, spoke about the various software developed for the disabled.

R. Kalyanakrishnan, a professor of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, explained how a successful experiment by the institute’s students had been used to create software that accepted the sound of a word and converted it into an Indian language of choice or into Braille.

Bookshare, an organisation in the U.S., has gone several steps ahead and is offering books online to its visually challenged members. James Fruchterman, chief executive officer of the digital library, provided a glimpse into the obstacles his organisation had to overcome when he launched it 25 years ago. The challenges it faced now included accessing copyrighted material, the use of technology and affordability of the technology. One reason for his choosing India to work with was the “Silicon Valley-India connection where we see big opportunities.”