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Books shut by law blinkers

by Radha Rao last modified Apr 02, 2011 02:20 PM
An article in The Telegraph (Kolkata) by Chandrima S Bhattacharya - 6th December, 2009

Imagine a life without books. Try to imagine it, really, said Moiz Tundawala, a student at the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS). He cannot read: he has lost his eyesight slowly over the years. He can only distinguish between light and dark now. But he is one of the toppers in his class and he initiated the meeting on the “Right to Read” campaign at the NUJS last month.

The campaign aims to amend the Indian copyright law, so that Moiz and millions like him in the country have far greater access to books. Now Moiz uses JAWS, a software that reads out the text from a computer screen. Sruti Disability Rights Centre, Calcutta, organised the programme that was hosted by the NUJS and launched “Right to Read” campaign in Calcutta, after The Centre for Internet and Society from Bangalore had launched it in Chennai.

Technology has helped the visually impaired tremendously over the past decade or so. But not enough, certainly not enough people in India, which is home to the world’s largest number of blind people.

Of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, over 15 million are Indians. One problem India faces is that such software is expensive. JAWS costs Rs 50,000 for every user. It is difficult for most to afford the software. So most use demo versions. The price also encourages piracy. And when the text is read out in English, since the software often comes from the US, the voice uses an American accent, said S.B. Patnaik, the principal of the Blind Boys’ Academy, Narendrapur, part of a panel that discussed technology as an aid to the visually impaired at the NUJS event. Many Indians find that accent difficult to follow.

The biggest problem is access to Indian texts. The Indian copyright law does not allow the conversion of all texts into formats accessible to the blind, such as in large print, audio, Braille or any electronic format. Nirmita Narasimhan of the Centre for Internet and Society said only a small percentage of Indian texts are now accessible to the visually impaired.
With her was Rahul Cherian of eBookbole, a website that encourages visually impaired and print-disabled people to connect and share books that have been converted into an accessible format.

The amendment of the copyright law is additionally important since India has already ratified the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The UN convention broadens the definition of accessibility for disabled persons considerably compared with its definition in Indian law. The activists are also demanding a change in the Persons with Disabilities Act, which defines access only in terms of built-in environment. They want to extend the definition of access, by taking it beyond the purely physical.
The UN convention extends the idea of access to many freedoms, and not only access to information, but to freedom of speech and expression and the right to culture and the right to leisure. In other words, it requires the written word to be fully available to the visually impaired, in whatever format the user is friendly with.

“India is under the obligation to implement the UN convention, since it has ratified it,” said Rukmini Sen, who teaches at the NUJS and was part of the panel.

Link to the original article


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