Infosys Education World (May 2006 Issue);
The great majority of India's visually challenged population whose number is estimated at 14 million nationwide, are inhabitants of the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. One of the major problems of visually impaired students of the Hindi heartland is that they aren't able to write their school or college exams due to a perpetual shortage of exam writers fluent in Hindi. To meet the needs and expectations of such students Satvir Singh (aged 17), a Class 10 student of J.P.M. Senior Secondary School, Delhi, has developed a pathbreaking software -- Braille Face -- which translates Braille commands into the Devanagri script.
Satvir is congenitally blind, and has just written his Class 10 Central Board of Secondary Education (C.B.S.E.) exams using Braille Face. He says: "Software which translates Braille commands into English already exists in the market. But this hardly helps Hindi-medium blind students, even if computer-literate. Without a Braille-to-Hindi software programme they had to be dependent on writers well-versed in Hindi, who are very few and mostly unavailable during exam time. I didn't want these students or myself to be dependent on anyone to write exams. Hence I worked tirelessly to create Braille Face."
Braille Face is simple and user-friendly. A student has to use only six keys on the keyboard -- F, D, S, J, K, and L, which denote Braille points one to six, respectively -- to type a word or letter on the computer. The software responds to a Braille command which identifies the letter combination and automatically translates it into the Devanagri script, used for writing Marathi, Hindi and Sanskrit languages. A supplementary screen-reading software Vaachak instantly flashes the word in Hindi.
Expectedly, the pan-India C.B.S.E. (with 8,278 affiliated schools), which has time and again come under fire for not allowing exam writing concessions to differently abled children, didn't allow Satvir to use his own computer to write the board exam. He was obliged to install the software into a computer provided by the examination centre.
Since it was written in 2003, Braille Face which is patented by Satvir has been tried, tested and approved by the Indian Standards Institute (I.S.I.). Currently negotiations for mass production and marketing this revolutionary software programme are being conducted with several organisations including the British Council and some private school managements in Delhi, which will help iron out its wrinkles before a national rollout.
Access India, an e-group formed by visually challenged individuals to exchange technology related information, reported that Satbir could write 10 pages and 5,400 words in four hours using his Brailler keyboard (with six keys as in the manual Braille writer). The screen reader developed by Satbir works with Vaachak.
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