Centre for Internet & Society
Tara Textreader, a boon for the visually-challenged

Right to Read

An article by M Ramya – Times of India, 26th September, 2009

Tara Textreader, a boon for the visually-challenged

Right to Read

CHENNAI: Mahendran loses track of time as he listens to portions from Romeo and Juliet through Tara. The final year B A (Tamil) student of Loyola College is pleased with the Rs 1.35-lakh Tara Textreader that allows him to access printed material without help and convey information without a scribe. "The Sangeetha software has an Indian accent. So I have no problem accessing material in English," says Mahendran, who has visual disabilities.

Earlier, students like him could not access printed material that hadn't been digitized. Their computer systems could not read material that wasn't pre-recorded. Professor Jerald Inico, a lecturer in the computer science department and faculty in charge of the college's Resource Centre for Differently Abled, says the Textreader need not even be connected to a computer.

He says: "We were trying to come up with a formula to evaluate students with visual disabilities because we felt that when scribes write down the answers for the students some of the content would be lost in translation. The equipment can scan the question paper and read it out and will also allow the student to answer verbally and store it as an audio clip. For students who become blind later in life and have not learnt Braille this is a big help."

Tara, purchased from funds provided by the ministry of social justice and empowerment, can only speak English; now through Sangeetha the college is trying to install a Tamil optical character recognition software.

While the students use Tara to read books now the equipment will be tested for exam evaluation during the April 2010 semester exams. But Mahendran is a bit wary. "If we can use Tara and still get extra time for the exams it will prove beneficial, but if we are given the same time as the others because we are using the textreader it will take time to comprehend what is being read to us and give the appropriate answers."

The college is also supporting a nationwide Right to Read' campaign for persons with print impairments to be launched in Chennai on Saturday. Nirmita Narasimhan, programme manager at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) which is one of the organisers of the campaign, says: "Two years ago when we proposed a change in the Copyright Act a clause was incoporated that said that books can be reproduced in formats exclusively for the use of the blind. This limits the reproduction to one or two options and newer technologies cannot be used. It also leaves out people with other disabilities like the dyslexic who also have print impairments. Technology is enabling, but law is disabling. We want to create awareness of the issue through the campaign."

Registration for the campaign begins at 8 am at the college. The CIS, DAISY Forum of India and Bookbole will take the campaign to other cities in the country.

Link to the article in TOI


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