They take Kannada books to the blind

The article dated 17 January 2016, by Sunitha Rao, Times of India was coverage in news media. We have kept things low key but we are happy to share and discuss with educational groups and organisations. Here is the article on the TOI site.

BENGALURU: Memorizing lessons and last-minute exam revision can be taxing for anyone, specially visually challenged students who are usually dependent on others to read out the texts to them. Not any more. Thanks to an invention by a city researcher, students can access Kannada textbooks in Braille printable format or tune in to their audio versions. 

The brainchild of Rakesh Tiwari, 31, Kannadapustaka.org scans high school Kannada textbooks and turns them into digital images. 

They are later converted in to the Braille version and can be downloaded and printed. "While I visited schools with visually challenged students, I realized there is a dearth of Braille textbooks. These schools get ample funds from charitable institutions. I didn't want to do charity but assist them through technological intervention. The website is just an initiative in that direction," said Rakesh, a gold medalist in MSc Botany and researcher at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Indian Institute of Science (IISc).How it works

Pages of Kannada textbooks are scanned and converted to high-quality digital images, which are processed with the help of a Kannada OCR (optical character recognition) engine. The engine turns the images to Unicode text, which requires a cleanup -it undergoes corrections, if any, which are made by volunteers. The edited text is then converted to a format which can be printed by schools using a Braille printer. 

There's another way of accessing the textbooks. Once proofread, Unicode chapters are transformed into audio files using Madhuravaachaka text-to-speech engine, developed by the Medical Intelligence and Language Engineering (MILE) lab at IISc, headed by Prog A G Ramakrishnan. The website made use of the Madhuravacahka engine. 

Geetha B N, a computer science teacher at Sharada Andhara Vikasa Kendra in Shivamogga, explained how hard it is for visually challenged students to revise before an exam."Braille books can give them knowledge but for revision, they need audio files or volunteers who can read out the texts. However, the lack of vounteers is a major problem. Also, each Braille chapter runs into 30 pages.That's where technology can be a boon. Having access to audio files is a huge advantage," said Geetha, whose school has benefited from the facility . 

Whenever there is a revision of syllabus texbooks, visually challenged students are the worst hit as Braille texts don't reach them on time. For example, in 2015 when the education department rehauled the political science and economics textbooks, students could lay their hands on Braille texts only after the first semester was over.

"The government must take steps to make textbooks open-source, so that they're easily available. If the books are in Kannada, their Braille versions get even more delayed," added Rakesh. 

 

The changemakers

The team with Rakesh at the forefront launched the website for public consumption a month ago.When he first conceived the idea, there were apprehensions on copyright issues. But the 2012 amendment to the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, made things easier. It allows copyrighted material to be converted into any accessible form for the benefit of visually challenged students. Once things took shape, the next step was to find volunteers. A group of volunteers (courtesy a Facebook page) came forward to proofread the text. Apart from Braille printable texts, the website has audio files in the voice of renowned actor Suchendra Prasad. Musician M D Pallavi also lent her voice to the books (which will be available soon), spending hours reading noncoherent texts. The team took barely three months to make class 10 textbooks accessible. While techies Ravi Bavimane and Sindhu HR led the proofreading team, music teacher Padmini K helped with the audio versions. Indu K Murthy, a climate change researcher and founding member of the initiative, is helping the team reach out to policy makers.