"The idea that a visually challenged person could read [DAISY] books as a sighted person reads print really fascinated me."
Avneesh Singh was born in New Delhi, India. As a young man he had dreams and aspirations of becoming an engineer. However he was confronted with a challenge that no one in his family had previously faced – "I opened my eyes in a family that has been in the business of mechanical engineering for many generations. So my love for machines and mechanics was natural. I grew up experiencing the basics of mechanical engineering and wanted to take this business to new heights..."
Time passed as I worked eagerly toward this goal, then I bumped into a challenge that wobbled me. My eyesight started deteriorating in a way that was traumatizing. To further add to my dismay, my doctor was unable to diagnose the problem. I therefore consulted one of the best eye specialists in the city and was diagnosed with retinal degeneration. He advised me to leave mechanical engineering and switch to something safer like computers, as working with machines was not safe for a visually impaired person. This disturbed me terribly and shook me at my roots. How could I forget my love and my passion?
The thought that I could become blind left me in deep anguish. My biggest concern was that of earning livelihood. After considering all possibilities, I decided to quit my current profession, but was reluctant to move out of engineering; I found computer engineering as a best alternative. Most of the people that I met were against my decision and tried to dissuade me by saying that a visually challenged person can not become an engineer, but I had made up my mind.
During the last couple of semesters of my engineering, my vision started deteriorating rapidly. So I started exploring other ways to overcome the problem. Then I found about TTS (text to speech) and screen readers, thanks to the Internet's knowledge bank. This changed everything – for the better.
After I completed my degree I started working as freelancer. I also decided to get myself fully equipped with the skills and tools that a visually impaired person might need at any stage of life. To accomplish this I went to AICB (All India Confederation of Blind) for guidance. After learning all of the skills, I concluded that my computer equipped with screen reader could give me the confidence that no other tool could.
I went to NAB (National Association for the Blind) to explore this further. I spoke to Mr. Dipendra Manocha (Director of IT at NAB) and discovered DAISY books – a great way to read and learn. The idea that a visually challenged person could read books as a sighted person reads print really fascinated me. I expressed my interest in this technology and my willingness to work on related projects.
At that time AMIS, the DAISY Consortium playback software tool had some compatibility issues with JAWS. Mr. Manocha suggested to me that I work on this project. I wrote a few JAWS scripts for AMIS and was successful in fixing the problem. This was my first taste of DAISY development and the satisfaction that comes with it.
Not too long after, I had a great opportunity to work for the DAISY Consortium as a Software Developer. Mr. Markus Gylling, the Chief Technical Officer for the DAISY Consortium deployed me on the Urakawa project. I was given an opportunity to work on one of the most vital parts of the project – writing the code for the audio engine.
I was really thrilled and worked dedicatedly to prove my worth; later I became a member of the International Technical Development Team of the DAISY Consortium. A few years later I was promoted to project leader of Obi.
Now that I had four or five years of experience and also had a managerial role in my organization, I thought that I should take post graduate management studies to enhance my knowledge. By God's grace I was selected for one of India's most prestigious business schools – the Indian Institute of Management (IIM).
In addition to enhancing my management and leadership skills at IIM, I developed a totally new perspective for looking at things. However I felt that I was still not on a par with other students. As I was the first visually impaired person studying there, I had some issues related to the study material. The management of the institute tried their best, but they were unable to arrange for accessible books.
The scarcity of accessible study material for higher education that I first faced during my engineering still persisted, even after half a decade. Even though the availability of DAISY books has improved the lives of many people in the world we have a long way to go before we can actually bring smiles to the faces of all print-disabled people everywhere, at all levels of study. The DAISY standards, playback and authoring tools need to be much, much more widespread, particularly in developing countries.
Earlier this year (2010) I graduated from IIM Kozhikode Campus with a vision to work more efficiently and effectively towards the DAISY Consortium's goal. Around the same time, I was given some new responsibilities, becoming the Country Manager – Technical Developments, for the Consortium.
My struggle for accessible study material throughout my academic career has fueled my commitment toward DAISY's vision. And with the techno-managerial skills I have gained, I aspire to build a comprehensive reading mechanism that will bring parity to all print-disabled people.