Sunday, December 12, 2010

In India, Inclusive Planet works toward an accessible Internet for "print-impaired" people

From Sify:

CHENNAI, India -- An online community platform designed for the print-impaired, probably the first such in the country, seeks to make the Internet accessible to people with different needs.

The platform,, came about after Chennai based Rahul Cherian realised while taking part in the 2008 discussions of the world blind union centering around the WIPO treaty for the blind, that there was a 'massive resource' problem that technology would fix.

Cherian said he represented India in Washington when WBU drew up a treaty with the aim of enabling people with disabilities.

The platform is basically drawn up for the print-impaired with the aim of facilitating content-sharing, information sharing and relationship building, Cherian said.

"The term 'print-impaired' implies that for some reason, physical (such as visual impairment or bodily paralysis) or cognitive (such as dyslexia), the person is unable to access content that is in a 'print' format i.e. words, images and symbols on paper or on screen."

"For such persons content has to be accessed in a wholly different way. In the past, options were limited to Braille and human voice; today, the digital world enables other solutions 'including text-to-speech software,which effectively ensures that content in most text formats can be 'read out' to print impaired persons."

Cherian and his team worked with organisations working with persons with print impairment to understand what the best solutions would be.

"The more we were exposed to the nature of the problems faced by the community, the more apparent it became what the solutions needed to look like. It is an evolving iterative effort that has been changing shape to meet the problem intelligently. "

It uses technology that helps converts text to speech. The screen readers assist visitors to navigate the website, including text-to-speech software, which effectively ensures that content in most text formats can be 'read out' to print impaired persons.

"Inclusive Planet is a social enterprise and our object is to become sustainable through revenue generation and not through fund raising. We have been supported by the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore who have given us office space and countless hours of advice and help," he said.

There are more than 250 million print-impaired persons in the world of whom over 150 million live in developing nations and the site has been designed to address the needs of this community.

Currently, the platform is available in English, Turkish and Arabic. Members created the Turkish and Arabic versions.

"We look forward to creating in various regional languages. Members from India are already sharing content in various regional languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu and Gujarati," Cherian said.

The platform was originally offered in English.

Cherian said that most important is what these members have done and are doing' "they have shared 17500 pieces of accessible content (audio, books in text format etc.), created 260 topical channels for discussion and content sharing, published 13605 comment posts and had 100,000 plus conversations on the platform."

Gopalakrishnan, Training Officer in Charge, National Institute of Visually handicapped, finds the site very useful and disabled friendly.

Instead of going to the library, college-going students can upload and download books, utilising it, he said.

He has also started an education channel on the site, beneficial for the disabled. "I post material on the site and those interested can download or upload it," he said.

The software has been designed and created keeping in mind the needs and challenges of the print impaired community. However it is accessible to a wide range of people, due to the simple design, Cherian said.

Asked if a visually impaired person can be taken for a ride while accessing a website like tourism travel, he said "Everything on the page is visible to the screen reader that is used by most visually impaired persons. There is no scope for a visually impaired person to be unaware of whatÂ’s happening on the page.

For, it makes sense to be inclusive as the target market is the print impaired community.

"We also believe that it makes business sense for all organisations to be inclusive as there are 250 million print impaired people across the world and they form an important market that have specific needs."

There is a huge opportunity for various organisations to develop products and services that include the print impaired community. "For example the travel market in the US for persons with disabilities is a few billions dollars," Cherian said.

Inclusive planet has a staff strength of 15 and is based out of Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi "with few of us living in each city," Cherian added.