Status and opportunities for promoting use of assistive technologies and content for persons with disabilities in India: Survey

On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Saksham launched its survey, ‘Status and opportunities for promoting use of Assistive technologies and content for persons with disabilities in India’, as part of its research project with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry.

The research project aims to understand how and what tools, technologies and content persons with disabilities in India use and how these factors can help them in education, employment and independent living.

It also aims to understand how participants use technology and content to better their lives, and what needs to be done by Schools, training institutes, employers, or others to better serve their needs.

We invite all persons with visual disabilities, especially those in school, college, and employment, to fill the survey. The published link to the survey is attached below and will be available for the next 3 months. Please feel free to share in your network and spread the word! https://forms.gle/hdD5XCH6bw4msbzn8

For any clarification or queries related to this survey, please contact:
Nishtha Vashishta
Strategic Engagement Advisor
Email: nishtha@saksham.org | http://www.saksham.org

India’s Saksham Trust Recognized as WSIS Champion 2021!

Saksham Trust (and its subsidiary Saktek Foundation) became one of the final champions of the prestigious World Summit on the Information Society Prizes  (WSIS) 2021 in the cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content category. Held virtually this year, the event took place on 19 May 2021 and was presided by Mr Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Saksham’s project was earlier among the 360 nominated projects from out of 1,270 submitted projects worldwide. The contest was developed as a mechanism to evaluate projects and activities that leverage the power of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to advance sustainable development.

Coordinated by the ITU, WSIS works closely with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to showcase successful projects from all over the world that implement the WSIS and sustainability values. This year’s WSIS Forum 2021, which represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ‘ICT for development’ community, was co-organized by ITU, UNESCO, UNDP and UNCTAD.

Saksham was recognised for its contribution on Sugamaya Pustakalaya, India’s largest online repository of accessible books for persons with print disabilities and Saktek.in, an online store making available special products for persons with blindness, especially those which are not available in general market. Some of the tools offered through Saktek.in include talking oximeter, talking thermometer, talking BP monitor, talking weighing scale, etc.

In addition, the organisation was also acknowledged for providing digital-literacy solutions with training and content to over 350 students. Read more about its work here:

https://www.itu.int/net4/wsis/stocktaking/Prizes/2021/Champions?jts=AGT5U7&idx=11&page=15#start

Speaking on the recognition, Mr Dipendra Manocha, Co-Founder and Managing Trustee of Saksham along with Ms Rummi K Seth shared, “We are extremely honoured to be recognised as champions by WSIS. The whole team of Saksham and our partner organisations are extremely delighted and we are very humbled to receive this recognition”.

A Better COVID-19 World for Persons with Disabilities in India.

A White Paper titled ‘Priorities for a COVID-19 World: ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in India’ was released by the Broadband India Forum (BIF) -‘ A Think-Tank for Digital Transformation’, during a special session of The Digital Dialogue on Monday, 10th August 2020.

The paper recognizes that although there are Acts, policies, and guidelines like the Guidelines for Government Websites (GIGW) 2009, the RPwD Act 2016, the Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction’ (DiDRR) 2019, and apps which are a highly commendable start towards digital inclusion, however, during the present pandemic, compliance with these acts and regulations vary from state to state, and persons with disabilities remain inconvenienced.

The White Paper delves on the critical policy interventions required for ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities, especially focusing on immediate needs arising due to Covid 19. The paper is essentially divided into 4 sections, the first introducing different groups of the population who will be benefited by accessible ICTs. The second chapter describes India’s international, regional and national commitments viz ICT accessibility and also highlights The Un roadmap for digital co-operation recently released in June 2020 which specifically talks of digital inclusion. The paper looks at India’s DARE Index score and notes that while India is high on its commitments, as is the case with most other countries globally, it falls short on capacity to implement and actual implementation. Chapter 3  identifies policy developments in various areas of ICT and flags certain areas requiring attention of different ministries, such as accessibility of television, web sites and apps, inclusion of persons with disabilities within the ambit of the Universal Service Obligation Fund, inclusion of accessibility requirements as part of generic criteria for testing and certification of telecom products, expediting the on-going process to  adopt and notify an accessible ICT procurement standard for public procurement in India, expediting the mandate to ‘connect India’ and of ‘digital inclusion’ under the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) and to bring out a gazetted notification confirming that India’s copyright law allows for import and export of accessible books so that persons with print disabilities have access to over 650,000 accessible books available in International libraries. Chapter 4 summarises these recommendations prioritising the accessibility of technologies used for providing Covid related information. The paper also recommends implementation of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s TRAI recommendations to the Government, starting with setting up the inter-ministerial committee on ICT accessibility at the earliest.

The key recommendations of the paper summarised in Chapter 4 are as follows:

  1. Integration and implementation of the DiDRR Guidelines within the Covid-19 response system
  2. Set up inter-ministerial steering committee to recommend and help implement accessibility measures within the Government and other stakeholders as recommended by TRAI
  3. Time-bound action plan to drive compliance with GIGW guidelines
    • Identification and prioritisation of the key government and private websites and apps used to monitor and provide Covid-19 related relief and assistance and make them GIGW compliant
    • Engage Service providers and institutions involved in education, entertainment, shopping and healthcare to create accessible ICT infrastructure and offerings
    • Develop a timeline with action plan for GIGW 2.0 compatibility, with a longer-term initiative to monitor compliance of all government websites and apps
  4. Adoption and notification of Telecom accessibility standards by TEC and inclusion in certification criteria for telecom devices and products manufactured/ procured/ sold in India
  5. Expedite the adoption and notification of accessible ICT procurement standard by MeitY
  6. Inclusion of ICT Accessibility in the Universal Service Charter:
    • Universal Service charter be expanded to include persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups as beneficiaries, both in rural as well as urban areas
    • The assistance provided by the USOF may include assistive technologies, devices, content, skilling, and services required to make complete digital inclusion and empowerment of these groups possible
  7. Promote adoption of Assistive Technologies and accessibility to drive greater broadband adoption amongst persons with disabilities and promote digital inclusion in line with the NDCP’s objectives [NDCP, 2018; Clause 1.4a(ii)]
  8. Ensure accessibility of all Covid-related information being broadcast through media as per accessibility standards notified by MIB
  9. Remove copyright barriers to accessible digital content through issuance of a gazetted notification that confirms permissibility of import and export of accessible-format books

The paper goes on to note that executing these actions on priority will provide some much-needed relief for persons with disabilities, and offer a significant boost to the ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ missions – resulting in increased GDP and socio-economic growth all around. India will be well on her way to achieving ‘Universal Connectivity for all’ – a central goal of the United Nations Secretary-General’s ‘Roadmap for Digital Cooperation’ 2020.

The paper was authored by Dr Nirmita Narasimhan, programme Director – Saksham  and Chair of BIF’s high level specialist committee on inclusion of persons with disabilities and co-authored by Ms Chandana Balasubramaniam, Principal Consultant, Research & Content, advisory@TVR.

The paper was jointly released over a virtual session by Dr. Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General, ITU; Shri J S Deepak, Former Ambassador to WTO & Former Secretary – Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Ministry of Communications; Shri K Ramchand, Member (T), DoT; Shri H K Mahajan, DDG (SR & E), DoT and Shri Vinay Thakur, Chief Operating Officer, National eGovernance Division, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Press coverage related to the event can be found at:

Kibo XS: Your Companion which makes Print and Handwritten Text Accessible in multiple languages

Saksham in collaboration with HCL Foundation had started its project Experience zone- Affordable Assistive Technology for Persons with Print Disabilities in 2019. The objectives of this project are to sensitise the parents, educators and stakeholders about the available solutions, and to enable them to try out and identify most appropriate solutions for their specific requirements. The series of articles in coming weeks will focus on some innovative and interesting assistive solutions and their availability for persons with visual impairment on http://www.saksham.blog. 

In India, millions of visually impaired individuals lack equal education and employment opportunities due to the inability to access printed, handwritten, and digital content on their own and it is because of this that 80% of the employable visually impaired are unemployed today.

Kibo XS- a product by Trestle Labs is the world’s first intelligent personalized scanning and reading device that reads printed and handwritten content across 12 Indian and multiple overseas languages via audio (through screen readers) with its quick and reliable technology. It leverages the power of artificial intelligence to enhance the accessibility of content in the lives of people with vision impairment and other print disabilities.

The Kibo XS device connects seamlessly with any Computer/ Laptop/ PC and even Phone via Kibo Web and Kibo XS mobile app respectively and offers the following salient features:

  1. Compatible with existing screen-readers (PC/Laptops) and Talkback (Smartphones)

  2. Listen to Printed/Handwritten text across 60+ languages including 12 Indian languages (English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Sanskrit, Urdu) in real-time through audio

  3. Download the scanned documents in Unicode formats – Doc, Docx, TXT, PDF, ZIP and even as images

  4. Ability to Translate text across 100+ languages in real-time

  5. Easy-access: Designed with human-centric design and accessibility guidelines, Kibo offers ease-of-use for everyone

  6. Reading features like Play/Pause, Navigation, Speech-rate and Text-to-speech selection

  7. Save the documents on Kibo Web Cloud for multi-device access anytime

Kibo XS can be used by Individuals, Inclusive Schools, Academic Institutions, NGOs, Workplaces and Public Libraries. The mere 400 gram, table lamp shaped device is the most affordable solution available at subsidized prices.

Mr Salunkhe from National Association for the Blind-Maharashtra tells ”With the affordable price of Kibo-XS, we can now have 4 such devices in one library rather than just one.”

Kibo XS device not only provides fast and accurate results but it also enables its users to read and learn independently thriving towards a world with equal reading and learning opportunities.

The device is now available at a subsidized cost for persons with visual impairment at Rs 19,949/- instead of 28,349/-

 

Tactile Coloring Set for Visually Challenged Kids

Saksham in collaboration with HCL Foundation had started its project Experience zone- Affordable Assistive Technology for Persons with Print Disabilities in 2019. The objectives of this project is to sensitise the parents, educators and stakeholders about the available solutions, and to enable them to try out and identify most appropriate solutions for their specific requirements. The series of articles in coming weeks will focus on some innovative and interesting assistive solutions and their availability for persons with visual impairment on http://www.saksham.blog. 

Inclusion through Colouring Activities

During this period of lockdown, kids with blindness and low vision are all alone at their homes without their friends. Colouring activity can help in the development of multiple skills like concentration, coordination etc. Such a fun learning experience is missing for children with blindness or low-vision.

 Kids with blindness also tend to associate colours with essential characteristics.

 “Yellow is a bright colour like a ray of sunshine falling on my face”

– A 10-year-old kid using the colouring book

 “Pink is my favourite colour, my mother tells me that I look like a fairy in a pink dress”

– A 7-year-old girl using the colouring book

 A Tactile Colouring Set

To bring some spark and fun in their lives, Raised Lines Foundation has developed a tactile colouring set “Fun and Learn with Colours” having a variety of tactile drawings. They are embossed as well as printed on the Braille paper to ensure that each drawing is accessible both for kids with blindness and low-vision.
Colouring set aims at improving the fine motor skills and tactile perception of kids through a series of tactile drawings with increasing complexity and textures.  Following the learning by doing approach, it provides an opportunity for students to broaden their perception by exploring various shapes and objects in a fun, creative and engaging way.

Drawings are printed and embossed on a thick Braille paper. Oil pastel crayons available in the market can be used.

The set of 22 tactile drawing book is now available on www.saktek.in at ₹ 240/-

It can be a wonderful and exciting gift for the kids who have been confined in the four walls of their homes during this pandemic.  

An electronic labelling system for people who are visually impaired and blind

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) report, there are 285 million visually-impaired people worldwide and among these, there are 39 million who are totally blind. There have been several systems designed to support visually impaired people (VIP) and to improve the quality of their lives. However, unfortunately, most of these systems are limited in their capabilities.

There are several portable devices that ensure safety and independent mobility to visually impaired people. Keeping in mind the day-to-day challenges faced by this underprivileged population in our country, SAKSHAM has introduced a unique portable electronic device, called a ‘Sonic Labeller’, an audio labelling device for blind and visually impaired people. This system consists of a pen-like electronic device, enabled with audio recording and outputs and round-shaped labels with barcodes that the device can sense, record and speak. The device has a built-in memory, a microphone and a speaker which allows the visually impaired person to place a sticker like a label on any object, scan it with the device and make an audio recording of that particular object by placing the device on the sticker which holds the audio recording for future reference.

This device comes with a booklet of reusable round shaped labels of different sizes which can be tagged with the required information in audio format. Once a message is recorded and tagged to a label, the pen plays the corresponding audio file every time it is brought closer to that particular label. It is commonly used for labelling different containers in the kitchen, drawers, books, documents, certificates, IDs, medicines, jars, bottles, crockeries, clothes and many more objects which are necessary for daily usage for the individuals.

Features

  • The portable electronic device has an internal memory of 4 GB which can store audio recordings for up to 20 hours;
  • It has a built-in microphone and a speaker;
  • Options for extendable 8 GB memory card;
  • It has a charger, headphone, and a USB cable.

It comes with a booklet of 228 reusable and re-recordable labels to store audio information. In addition, the individuals can also purchase, separately, a pack of 50 washable labels for tagging and identification of their clothes and linens.

For further information log into www.saktek.in

Nothing stops in Saksham during Covid Pandemic

During this difficult time of the worldwide Covid pandemic, schools have been using the digital platform to stay in touch with students and continue their studies. Saksham has not lagged behind in this endeavour.

Teachers at Saksham are connected with their students through WhatsApp audio and video calls or through Zoom. They have made planning for the new session and taking classes accordingly. The activities are being supervised by the seniors and they are also giving their suggestions for further improvement in delivering the concepts. Every day teachers are sharing interesting lessons/ activities on whatsapp. Parents are following those videos and teaching their children. Parents also share videos of the children after completing the task. Teachers are giving homework which the children are submitting through voice messages, videos or images. Teachers and parents are interacting regularly, resolving queries and sharing suggestions. Parents are also communicating among themselves and motivating each other through the videos they are sharing the activities they are doing with their children.

Our integrated children are also attending the online classes conducted by their respective schools. All the students have been promoted to the next class. They have downloaded the NCERT books from E pathshala and the books of other publishers from Sugamaya Pudtakalaya. Their teachers are uploading E lessons and assignments on the website of the school which students are completing and sending back to them for checking. They have started their tuition classes through WhatsApp or conference call with our integrated teachers. They are helping students in completing their assignments and notes. Apart from this some of the students have joined other online classes to appear for competitive exams like through Akash Institute, career launcher, online course in learning Python and chess from Indic AI foundation.

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All this may sound very familiar to normal households in Delhi or NOIDA. However, this becomes special when we realise that all of the above applies to students with blindness or multiple disabilities. These students are between the age group of 1 to 18. At least 70% out of these are from families dependent on daily earnings and economically weaker section of the society. What makes this special is that this transition from normal school learning to digital form of learning has been made possible due to the long term investment of Saksham in digital literacy of all their students right from their childhood. To be able to read and write in  Devanagari and Roman script in addition to the braille script is an integral part of the education program. Every child has their own digital device such as a laptop or smartphone with screen reading software or the refreshable braille display. These devices enable students to be able to read and write in large print or listen to books and assignments or to read or write in braille independently without any external intervention. These very devices enabled them to use the applications and tools for online classes and methods of communications by themselves. This was introduced for their inclusion in mainstream schools and to prepare them for contemporary employment opportunities. This vision of investment into future has paid dividends by allowing to continue their education during the lockdown. Very few children with blindness or low vision have this  privilege in India. It is said that the world will never be the same after Covid-19. We do hope that the state of digital literacy and the age at which this is introduced to children with disabilities such as blindness, low vision, learning disabilities, etc. will change for all. It is often lack of willingness to change and not the lack of resources that stands in the way of introducing digital reading and writing solutions and making them part of their day to day method of studies. If Saksham can do this in India using community support, we certainly believe that it is possible to achieve this for every child with a disability in our country.

How to protect yourself from COVID-19

As we all are aware COVID-19 is spreading rapidly worldwide and we are fighting against this pandemic through maintaining social distancing and by frequently practicing good hygiene.

So, here are some basic and the most important precautions to take to avoid the infection:

A-Wash your hands frequently

Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands soap and water or with an alcohol-based sanitizer.

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based sanitizer kills the virus that may be on your hands.

B-Maintain Social Distancing

Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.

C-Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.

D-Practice respiratory hygiene

Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

Why? Droplets spread the virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19

E-If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early

Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.

F- Stay informed and follow the advice given by your healthcare provider

Say informed on the latest developments about COVID-19. Follow the advice given by your healthcare provider, your national and local public health authority or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on whether COVID-19 is spreading in your area. They are best placed to advise on what people in your area should be doing to protect themselves.

The Largest Collection Of Online Materials For The Visually Impaired

SAKSHAM has been converting regular books into audiobooks for decades. It’s been a long winding road from that moment to the present time, but presently, the Sugamaya Pustakalaya digital library that is supported by the Indian government more than 500,000 titles available for the blind and print disabled persons. This adds up to the books available in other libraries like Bookshare in the country and makes the Indian system one of the largest complete in the world for people with visual imparity.

Read on to find out about SAKSHAM’s efforts to reach out to readers with visual imparity.

SAKSHAM started the NLS (National Library Service) in collaboration with the government of India i.e. The Sugamya Pustakalaya initiative and took it one step further allowing the distribution of audio-described CDs, DVDs, audiobooks and braille material to all those who are inscribed and have proved to have some kind of visual imparity and print disability. The efforts from the (Talking Books and Braille Library) are aimed to reach out to as many people with visual imparities as they can. The Talking Books and Braille were created with the aim to foster reading and has since transcended that word into other territories like touch, feel and hear. Actually, since the year 2003, the audiobooks were stored into cassette tapes and CDs. By that year, all of them were replaced by digital players and exclusive design USB flash-drive cartridges. The digital players are also designed especially for reading with bookmarking options, navigation buttons, sleep timer and also battery operation for portability. As a part of this initiative, Braille and Audio Reading Download was created to give even more flexibility to the end-users. By the year 2013, an app was created to allow users to use Braille and Audio Reading Book Download in their mobile devices. These measures drastically improved the number of users and the reach that books have over the visually impaired population in SAKSHAM and in the various states across India in general.

All people who live in India can be benefited from these innovative policies are those who are blind and visually challenged and print disabled and do not have access to accessible books for their education and employability.

The Sugamya Pustakalaya library not only provides the books, but it also provides the materials to listen to them. Just like the innovation of the INDO-NVDA which is a screen reading software being open source to generate equity in terms of access. This effort by SAKSHAM makes sure all the persons with blindness and print disability in our country can access this material with no distinction of the economic situation. SAKSHAM is an example for the rest of the country to follow and grant access to a vast number of books that include high school and college books that have been in an alternative format. Hopefully, in the near future, the whole country will offer the same facilities for free to this underprivileged section of this society.

MANI – Mobile Aided Note Identifier.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor launched a new mobile application to help visually impaired persons in identifying the denomination of currency notes known as the Mobile Aided Note Identifier (MANI), the RBI app can be freely downloaded from Android Playstore or iOS.

This new application will help the visually impaired people to identify the denomination of the Indian banknotes Mahatma Gandhi Series and Mahatma Gandhi (New) Series by capturing the image of the notes placed in front of the mobile’s rare camera. The app will generate audio and non-sonic notification intimating the currency note denomination to the user.

The new RBI app will also allow users to choose and change the language, select and change the impairment, voice commands, currency identification using the camera, the history of identified currency for last 30 days and many more features.

– Source TOI/IANS/January 2020

To download the app visit the link below.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rbi.mani