For the visually impaired, the only feasible way to access literature, apart from Braille, is through audio books. But, very little of published literature is available online. And Braille too has its own problems of scale, expense and difficulty in maintenance and distribution.
Students learning about the Voice Donation Camp at Powai English High School
Some NGOs have started work on this area by recording books, but the process is slow and cumbersome. It is this space that IIT Powai's five-member team of Project Awaaz aims to fill by introducing technology to the method.
The team has launched a website www.projectawaaz.org where anyone sitting anywhere can record a poem for the project which they will test for quality and upload on the site. As a start, the website launched on June 26 has already recorded over 100 poems.
Rishabh Bohara (left) and Ishan Rakshit (right)
"One of my cousins was a volunteer in NAB Delhi (National Association for the Blind) and used to record books there. That is when I got to know about the activity and I went to NAB Mumbai to find out more.
I saw that it had three recording rooms where you could choose to volunteer and record books. But it was too much effort on one's part to go all the way to Worli and record. For this reason, NAB Mumbai had recorded very few books considering its scale. And we thought of bringing in some technology and scale the process up," Rishabh Bohara, a founder member of the project, explains.
Offline recording sessions are held every week in partner schools
In the process of getting the project started, he met Ishan Rakshit, Govind Lahoti, Nihal Singh and Arpan Banerjee, who were all interested in the project. "Initially, we thought of building an Android application that could easily use crowd-sourcing and solve the problem straightaway. We even made a beta version and circulated it among our friends. With the feedback that we got from this initiative, we learnt that it made more sense to begin with a website," Bohara recounts.
As they started researching in the area, they unearthed that though there is content available in English/Hindi there is none for other regional languages. "Of the 15 million-plus visually impaired population in India, a vast majority speaks these languages. Access to literature wasn't really democratised. So this became one of our core focus areas, and a direction we feel we can take. Thanks to the Internet, we can literally reach out to people in any corner of the country who speak any language," he says.
As of now, they will upload content chiefly for children — poems and short stories — and will distribute the recordings to blind schools in Mumbai on a monthly basis. "We've also come up with an idea of involving school kids (Class 9 onwards) in this social initiative from an early age by organising recording sessions in schools, he says.
Once the milestone of 500 recordings is reached, they plan to add more languages and more forms of content to be able to help a larger section of society. "We are also planning a volunteer programme where interested people can start a Project Awaaz chapter in their city [we have already received enquiries by some college students] and organise recording sessions and get more blind schools on board," he signs off.
Log on to: www.projectawaaz.org
To volunteer log on to: email@example.com