Over the last few years, NCERT, CBSE and several other state boards have digitised school books and have put it online to make it publicly accessible. Students can download these books and read them for free. But, not all. Visually impaired students cannot access these books, especially old ones, as they read books through screen reader software that converts digital text to audio. But, the fonts of these older books are in formats that screen reader can't read and convert into audio. Sometimes, diagrams, tables and equations are put as images that the software doesn't support either.
"This conversion is a major problem that we have taken up as a project," says M. Balakrishnan, Professor, CSE Department at IIT Delhi who has founded AssisTech, an inter-disciplinary group of faculty, research staff and students that uses technology for finding affordable solutions for the visually impaired.
At AssisTech, they have developed a software called Reading Assistant for the Visually Impaired (RAVI) that will convert an inaccessible document including images into accessible document so it can be read by screen reader.
Its focus will essentially be to help a visually impaired person navigate and access complex equations in the text, get description of a diagram as text, and access Indian language material using screen readers on platforms such as Android.
RAVI will be able to convert text with 95 per cent accuracy and the rest will have to be done through manual intervention, says Balakrishnan.
He adds, "Our focus now is on school books because education is the primary requirement for people to get employed and build careers."
The project is funded by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India.
RAVI's prototype will be ready within the next 12 months and will be in the market by the start of 2021.
AssisTech is also working on another project Mobility Assistant for Visually Impaired (MAVI) that uses a camera to capture the surrounding scene and the object recognition software that will converts it to audio to help visually impaired navigate the public spaces. For instance, the person will have to wear the camera in the neck that will capture the dog or the pothole or even the signages in multiple Indian languages around and give audio alert through the phone to the visually impaired on what to watch out for. He says, "the device is to help them feel safe in public spaces." It will take them a year to develop the prototype.
AssisTech labs has already developed four products that are available in the market. One of those is Smart Cane product that helps visually impaired detect obstacles at or above knee level and another one OnBoard helps blind people board a public bus independently.