It was not easy for 25-year-old Garima Goyal to get three post-graduate degrees. But the coursework, deadlines and submissions were not the deterrent. The biggest challenge she faced was the lack of easy access to the prescribed texts in a format she could study after she started to lose her sight at 15. “Most of my books were not available in audio formats due to copyright issues,” she reveals. “Moreover, college notes are often hand-written or photo-copied. So often, I had to get someone to type them out in a legible format,” she adds.
The investment in her education was immense. Books, notes and prescribed texts had to be scanned before putting them through a software that would convert them into audio. While many visually-impaired students like Goyal have struggled over the years to keep pace with their sighted classmates, the launch of an online library dedicated to higher education might make things easier.
On January 4, the birthday of Louis Braille, who invented the six-dot language for the blind, the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH) will launch the Online Braille Library at the Ali Yawar Jung Institute for the Hearing Handicapped in Bandra. With over 12,000 titles in 14 different languages, it is dedicated to help visually-impaired post-graduate students with prescribed texts from numerous colleges across India without any charge. By offering reading formats in Braille as well as audio, the library will cater to students in subjects ranging from mathematics and IT to history and literature.
“We launched the initiative on this very day in 2009,” smiles Anuradha Mohit, director of NIVH. “It took close to 18 months to convert all the texts into a Unicode font, which can be read in Braille as well as audio.” The Online Braille Library will thus be a resource that allows students to read in Braille using an add-on computer equipment called Refreshable Braille Display, and in audio using voice software such as JAWS.
Mohit, who is visually-challenged herself, explains the focus on texts for post-graduate studies. “A book in any language becomes twice as large when it is translated into Braille. The logistical complications and the time involved often discourages them from pursuing degrees in higher education,” she reveals. “Storing them becomes a problem for individuals and university libraries,” she adds.
NIVH will begin the programme by training the staff and visually-impaired students from over 100 universities and libraries to use the portal. The users can enroll through the local libraries that are affiliated with NIVH.
The online texts for the educated blind isn’t the library’s only unique selling point. Their section titled ‘Common Catalogue’ will have access to all the books — reference, study, fiction and children’s books — available with Braille publishers and libraries across the country. “This will make it easier for both students and parents to locate the required book and approach the right publisher for a copy,” says Mohit. “We want to make sure that every visually-impaired person in India has the opportunity to access Braille literature,” she adds.
According to Sushmeetha B Bubna, the founder-director of Voice Vision, an organisation that trains visually-impaired people to work on computers, this initiative will help people in cities as well as rural areas. “People in cities may have their smartphones and laptop software to read, but Braille is very important to people in rural areas. This initiative will help not just the visually-impaired, but also the hearing-impaired,” she says.