No blind spot

Updated: Jul 05, 2020, 10:11 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

A visually impaired legal advisor with SEBI defies the lockdown to help persons with disabilities access books beyond Braille and make sense of money matters

So far, Kelapure has converted over 50 books using Optical Character Recognition
So far, Kelapure has converted over 50 books using Optical Character Recognition

Growing up in Chandrapur, Rahul Kelapure, assistant legal advisor at Securities and Exchange board of India (SEBI), wanted to devour books that extended beyond his school syllabus. It was not the paucity of material that was a hindrance, but its access. As a visually impaired person, reading, for him, meant Braille. His parents would often read out passages as there were no audiobooks at the time. "Because of my disability, I was always told that my resources are limited," he remembers. "But, there was a gnawing desire to read and learn whatever I wanted, just like everybody else."

Years later, Kelapure is putting his long-nurtured dream into action. Using Optical Character Recognition (the process by which scanned documents are translated into digital text), he is making books accessible to persons with visual impairment. "It is a system through which a hard copy can be converted to digital text, so that they can be read on the computer or on mobile phones with the help of screen reading softwares," he explains.

So far, he has converted over 50 books in Marathi and English, including Class VIII textbooks and Economics books recommended for Bachelor of Arts (BA) students at Pune University. He has also overhauled Marathi classics such as Dnyaneshwari, Geeta Rahasya and Dasbodh, a 17th-century Advaita Vedanta spiritual text, which was narrated by the saint Samarth Ramdas to his disciple, Kalyan Swami. "I included regional books in the mix, because the rich literature in vernacular languages is often ignored." That said, there's no formula to his process of book selection. "I choose books that pique my interest. When I was pursuing an MBA degree, I converted those [study books], too." The tomes usually take time to convert because of the sheer volume. "You need to have the patience to see it [process of scanning] through and ensure there are no mistakes."

 Rahul Kelapure
Rahul Kelapure

Accessing these works in digital format also requires a certain level of smartphone literacy, because, sometimes, the phones serve as eyes for people with visual impairment. Realising this, Kelapure has started training the blind in using Android phones effectively. The sessions are free of cost. "I reached out to NGOs and social workers and have managed to find people who are interested," says Kelapure, who holds a degree in Securities Law from National Institute of Securities Market (NISM) and a post graduate diploma in Cyber Laws from Asian School of Cyber Laws (ASCL).

Given his fluency in finance, Kelapure also conducts SEBI's workshops on investor education for persons with disabilities for various institutes across India. He has, so far, conducted more than 25 such workshops over the past 10 months and reached out to more than 2,000 people in one year. "More often than not, the visually impaired are dependent on relatives or friends for financial decisions. There are ample instances where they have ended up being duped and lost money." The sessions are aimed at pre-empting such episodes. He teaches them how to plan their finances, save, provides options for the best financial services available in the market and how to access them independently. All through the lockdown, he has been holding these classes virtually.

Thanks to being cooped up at home, Kelapure says he has also had more time to convert books. "For now, I have my eyes set on historical material."

2,000

Number of persons with disability he has tutored for free on financial investment in one year

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