Archive for March, 2013

Does IT help? IT for visually impaired

March 18, 2013

 

It is widely acknowledged in India that IT (Information Technology) helps in the creation of lakhs of jobs, thousands of millionaires and hundreds of new companies. What is not widely appreciated is the less-known, yet equally important ways in which IT benefits Indian society, including the marginalized sections.

 

Globally, the largest numbers of visually impaired persons live in India; 1.45 million in the age group 25-29 alone, as per Census. Shun by the mainstream society, they get reconciled to a “cursed” life, getting confined to the homes. Many of them are very intelligent and given an opportunity, they can add economic value to the Nation.

 

1      Organizations like NAB (National Association of Blind) are doing an amazing job of providing “mobility training” to many visually impaired persons, so that they can live an independent life by taking care of their daily needs. Aided by such initiatives, several Schools have integrated visually impaired children into mainstream classes.

 

2      For those who are lucky enough to get education, the “text-to-speech technology” built into many smartphones and the Screen Reader software like JAWS on PC’s are a great help. You will be surprised to find some visually impaired persons responding to e-mail and SMS messages faster than many of us! They can read all the e-books / journals / magazines as well as the web-content of many websites.

 

Not every one is lucky to get access to education; not every employer would give visually impaired an opportunity to earn a decent salary that permits them to own a smartphone and a PC.

 

The case of “Netra Sarathy” is particularly interesting.

 

3      IBPS (Institute of Banking Personnel Selection) recruits entry-level staff for banks; they partnered with NAB to replace “scribes” (human assistants who help visually impaired during examinations); by re-purposing examination content and using standard software, IBPS enabled visually impaired to take the Bank Clerk Grade examination with no “scribe” suddenly freeing both the candidate and IBPS the trouble of finding a “scribe”! With 8,800 applicants from the visually impaired in one examination alone, one can gauge the impact of such initiatives.

 

At the higher end,

 

4      Retina India is working on an ambitious project of making an affordable “bionic eye”. It will be several years before it becomes a reality, but the goal of “making blind see”, is indeed a worthy pursuit! Image processing plays a key role in the creation of bionic eye.

 

Doesn’t IT help?

(Appeared in Education Times of Times of India, March 18, 2013)