LIFE

Rendering voice to the voiceless

Making them talk

Making them talk  

FOR THREE-year-old Anupama, it was almost an impossible task to read out aloud from her textbook. Suffering from an auricular impairment since birth, she could not utter more than a few words. But now, she is able to identify pictures and read them aloud, albeit with a little difficulty. Thanks to the `You can Voice' a software developed by the Research and Development Division of the Computer Science Department of Mahalingam College of Engineering and Technology (MCET).

The software, meant to reduce the physical strain on the teaching staff and enhance the confidence of the hearing impaired, has proved beneficial in motivating special children in interacting and learning new things. Moreover, this has been formulated in Tamil with more than 1,000 most frequently used words and phrases that have been classified into simpler categories. The template of the system has been designed with pictures showing the lip movement and corresponding texts for each words.

The utility of the software has been recognised internationally and the Apple University Consortium had recently selected it for a presentation at the AUC Developers Conference, at Townsvilla in Australia. And in a bid to provide new technologies and best practices for hearing impaired children, a national-level conference on `Empowering Technologies in Educating Hearing Impaired Children in India', will be held from November 14 to 17 at the MCET campus at Pollachi.

Learning the conventional way

Learning the conventional way  

The theme of the meeting is to create awareness and educate the hearing impaired children and their teachers. The conference will include a discussion on the new techniques in sign and oral methods of teaching and learning process. The software will be released in eight languages at the conference, namely, Tamil, English, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Oriya and Bengali.

Though several software companies are keen on developing the package for business interests, the MCET has developed this one with a social objective - making the hearing impaired children "speak". "The fact about children with speech impairment is that they do not know how to communicate. This is because they are hearing impaired since birth and so are incapable of reproducing the sounds as we do," says vice chairman of MCET, M.Manickam. Alexander Grahambell developed the first novel method of oral teaching for the hearing impaired in the 19th century. The method has been fruitful in enabling children to speak more coherently. The Director of Oral School for Hearing Impaired, Christopher, later closely followed this method in Nagercoil. He also played an important role in the setting up of the Kasthurba School for the Hearing Impaired in Coimbatore in 1996.

The school, managed by Mahalingam Mariammal Manivizha Charitable Trust, started with five children and at present has 58 on its rolls. Most of them suffer various degrees of hearing impairment. About 25 of them have been provided with hearing aids. Like little Anu, there are many more children who have been benefited by this technology. Malarvizhi, a class IV student of the school, has emerged as an eminent chess player. She has bagged the second place in the State-level chess tournament.

By Vidyashree Amaresh

Photos: K. Ananthan

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