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Can’t read, so use new tech to let books speak

by Prasad Krishna last modified Apr 02, 2011 01:43 PM
An article in the Times of India about the Right to Read campaign organised by the Centre for Internet & Society at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi as the world book fair kicked off.

Fifteen-year-old Ravi has never read a book. Diagnosed with a brain disorder when he was just three years old, he was taught how to read in a school for special children. But apart from some local newspapers and occasional letters from his family, he could never manage to enjoy a book because reading printed words was never comfortable to him.

On Saturday, Ravi was among the 300 print-impaired people — all dressed in identical blue sweatshirts and suffering from various disabilities like blindness, autism, dyslexia etc — who gathered at Pragati Maidan as the World Book Fair kicked off. Taking part in ‘Right to Read’ campaign organized by Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), they tried to create awareness about the plight of nearly 70 million people in the country who cannot read but, nevertheless, have the ability to enjoy a book or get information if book publishers take care to use the technology.

‘‘We want that people with disabilities should also be able to enjoy popular books like White Tiger or Five Point Someone. But for this, a lot needs to be done. The outdated copyright act needs to be amended so books can be converted to form which is accessible like audio books. Many publishers and writers do not give permission to have their books converted,’’ says Nirmita Narasimhan, programme manager of CIS.
As Amina flashes her wide grin, she seems just like any other normal 12-year-old child. However, a learning disorder stopped future studies for her and now her parents want to get her ‘‘settled’’ in life. ‘‘I want to study further,’’ was all she said. Amina has come from a small town in Bihar and is in Delhi with an NGO that is helping her adjust to life as a dyslexic.

Another participant in the campaign, Manoj, is blind. While he learned braille several years ago, his biggest regret is that because of his disability, he cannot enjoy the latest bestsellers. ‘‘I read whatever books are available in braille. Popular books are never accessible to me,’’ he said. The nationwide campaign began last year and since then has taken place in Kolkata and Mumbai, with Delhi being the third destination.
‘‘The campaign seeks to draw attention to the fact that out of nearly one lakh books that are published each year, barely 700 are available to people who cannot read print. The books can be converted into formats like braille, audio and large print to make them accessible to disabled people using screen readers (talking software) but it’s rarely done,’’ said a campaign volunteer.

Members of the campaign claimed that according to World Blind Union nearly 5% books are available to print-impaired persons in the developed countries. But in India the number of such books is just .5%. Javed Abidi, convener of Disabled Rights Group and one of the key-note speakers in the campaign, said: ‘‘Mostly it’s the visually impaired who have carry out the task to make the books more accessible to them. They have to scan the book and convert it and so that they can enjoy it. This needs to be changed. The onus should be on the publishers so books are made accessible to everyone.’’

The leaders of the campaign approached Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal when he came to speak at the inauguration ceremony of the fair. The minister said he has already done a lot for disabled citizens. Since the campaign was launched, over 600 authors and publishers have pledged their support to the campaign. ‘‘While technology has enabled the print-impaired community to access print materials in electronic formats that can be read using assistive technologies, converting books to these formats is not permitted by the law. The campaign also seeks necessary amendments in the Indian Copyright Act,’’ said Narasimhan.

For original article on The Times of India

Filed under:
ASPI-CIS Partnership


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