Sunday, February 6, 2011

Digital Drishti

Hello readers.
It has been a long, Really long time since I posted any thing.
But I nither had time nore some realy great thing happened.
Not that I am free now, but some thing really great has happened, or at least started to happen in a big way.

Digital Drishti, a project for Education and employment of the blind

Well, Many who know my work will be aware that I have been conducting a lot of FOSS awareness and migration workshops.
But Those are pritty well known now so I did not find it worth wile to blog about it.
So Why am I blogging about this particular project?
As the title says its some thing to do with vision "Drishti". And its also digital.
So needless to say that its extremly important to make people aware about it.
Another reason to blog about it is because I any ways wanted to write about Vinux, a modified version of Ubuntu with more specialised facility for blind.
And the said project is very closely related to this distro.
So afterall what is Digital Drishti?
Actually it is a known fact that masses of Blind people are either unemployed or underemployed even with the qualifications and talents they have,
Since ICTs are so important, it is necessary that blind community also becomes computer literate.
But that's not the problem. Blind people are very much capable of doing computer based jobs right from data entry, medical transcription till advanced jobs like server administration or even main streem programming.
Many are infact good analysts and often found in law field.
So Given their computer knowledge they should have never faced the problem of getting jobs that require to use computers.
But still the fact is that they don't.
The reason?
Most blind users are either unaware or little aware about Free and Open
Source Software.
Most blind computer users know Windows and use certain proprietory softwares like Jaws or Windoeyes.
The problem is that these softwares are very costly and many a times restrictive in nature.
As a result employers are not willing to spend a few thousand $s for
employing few blind people.
And this is but natural and practical on the part of employers to think so.
For example, Here in Mumbai (India) the State Bank of India (SBI) employs blind telephone operators. The said organisation has employed more than 200 blind people in the last 2 years.
Most of these employees are well qualified to do various more respectful and deserving jobs including clerical and other desk jobs.
Many have a masters degree and have more scope for higher promotions.
Yet all these employees are only taken in for customer care and telephone booth management.
The problem with Organisations like SBI is that if these many people were to be given computer based jobs, it means a few million $s will have to be spent for purchasing license for their screen reader.
This is obviously unjustified investment on the part of any such organisation.
It becomes more unjustified given the FOSS based alternatives which are pritty much good enough to be used on real time bases.
The only problem thus is about making blind people and their potential employers aware of this alternative.
If more and more organisations are made aware that they need not spend any thing on licenses of screen readersm then the willingness of employers to give computer based jobs to the blind people will naturally increase drastically.
At the same time, it is necessary to train blind people on these FOSS based screen reader.
Digital Drishti is a project aimed at achieving these to goals.
The ultimate vision of Digital drishti is to create an eco system wherein the well trained blind community can get jobs without feering of license cost for the technology which can bridge the digital divide.
The plan is to lonch a comprehensive course using free and open course where.
This course is under developmental consideration from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).
While we are in the process of creating a perfect course,
As a preparation I on behalf of IIT have started a series of workshops on the Orca screen reader running it with Vinux Distro of GNU/Linux.
The first workshop was held in New Delhi.

about the starter workshop

The basic idea is based around the concept of spoken tutorial ( )
Spoken tutorial is a government funded project in IIT Bombay.
Funded by the National Mission on Education through Information Comunication Technology (NMEICT), the project aims at large scale audio visual documentation of FOSS.
These tutorials are pedagogically designed and recorded so as to facilitate optimum learning with minimum or no supervision.
I was asked by the project to build tutorials for Orca screen reader on same grounds.
In one of the meetings with Prof. Kannan, the project lead, I suggested that we should take this a step ahead and make it a starting point of a comprehensive ICT trainning project for the blind.
Following the completion of 12 basic tutorials, we decided that its time to lonch the project and thus this first workshop was held in New Delhi.
More than 40 participants from many organisations participated in this workshop.
All of them were given the set of spoken tutorials and were made to do preplanned assignments on the basis of these tutorials.
I personally find Vinux as the most accessible distro. Thus all the tutorials were made using Vinux/.
The feedback from the participants was moderate to extremly good.
Infact some of the participants even handed us their laptops for immediately converting to Vinux, while some asked us how they could dual boot and get startd.
Overall every one at least agreed that this has to be taken ahead and the course is of extreme importance for future employment of the massive educated blind community in India.
If Vinux continues the current pase of getting better and better, we will certainly be able to generate a best fit employment oriented course.
Most of the blind users found vinux 60% usable in its current state.
The plan is to hold another mega workshop to promote the project and get more people to use Orca.
This will happen in the southern part of India in Vishaka Patnam.
I will keep the blog posted about that workshop as well.
More than 100 students will learn Orca during the next workshop.
Feedback from these workshops will be taken into serious consideration while planning the actual course which the said univercities of IGNOU and IIT wish to jointly lonch.
The course will be open for other organisations to conduct. The course material including the spoken tutorials will also be kept open.
It is expected that by May or June, we will have a course ready to be implemented.
needless to say that with the growing popularity of FOSS in the industry, this will become a sweet coincident that we will have a wonderful distro called Vinux which Blind people will be able to use for demonstrating their real potentials to future employers.