"...my story could happen to any student with blindness living in any developing country..."
By: Dipendra Manocha
Director of the Regional Resource Centre (New Delhi), DAISY for All
This true story changed the course of my life. I realized that my story could happen to any student with blindness living in any developing country since hardly any text books and reference books are accessible. Even basic assistive technology such as screen reading software is often not available in the local language. I knew there had to be a solution to make persons with blindness or low vision independent in reading and writing.
So, in 1993, I left my career in music in order to study and then teach and implement computer applications to contribute to the benefit of persons with blindness in India. Within a period of five years at the National Association for the Blind in New Delhi, we were able to establish that computer technology was not meant only for the wealthy, rather it was something that would ideally change the way each and every individual with a print disability could read and write, and maybe even enable them to get a job. However, there was still no solution for the lack of reading materials in local languages, and many students were still without books in their schools and colleges.
In 1999, I was introduced to the world of digital books by Hiroshi Kawamura at a UNESCAP meeting in Bangkok. I immediately was drawn towards these feature-rich digital books as another revolution that was changing the way persons with print disability were enabled to read. However, at that time a digital talking book player cost US$ 500.00 which is beyond the reach of most individuals with a print disability in any developing country. In these countries, the work of content creation is often done by small organizations and they mostly lack human and financial resources to be able to adopt this technology. To bring developing countries into the fold of the DAISY revolution, the technology itself had to remain the same but the way of implementation had to change to meet their needs.
The DAISY for All project started in 2003 under the leadership of Hiroshi Kawamura and I had the opportunity to work for it as an Assistant Project Manager. The focus was on digital technology offering flexibility and providing opportunities to everyone to make use of it. If low income groups could not afford DAISY players, they could use main stream MP3 players to listen to the same DAISY digital talking books with the compromise that many features of navigation are lost. Usually conversion of analog cassette recordings to digital format is done at fast speed using expensive equipment. To suit the needs of small organizations in developing countries, we were able to develop and use a solution at a fraction of that amount involving adapted cassette players and innovative schemes. Large numbers of end users themselves were engaged in this analog to digital conversion process in India and Thailand. This not only made the process low cost but also brought a means of income to youth with blindness or low vision.
Now working as the Director of the Regional Resource Centre for the DAISY for All project in New Delhi, my every moment is involved in ideas and related projects such as:
- Development of screen reading software for Indian languages
- Content creation in local languages
- Introduction of the technology in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal as well as India. There are not only 22 languages but also a vast geographical and cultural diversity to deal with
- Research for affordable DAISY playback through subsidy schemes and development of a low cost player
- Creation of networking and common catalog systems among innumerable small organizations who want to be a part of this digital revolution
My story has a happy ending...
The path of becoming a part of solution to overcome the frustration caused by dependence on others for reading and writing has been full of satisfaction and joy!
Dipendra is now a valuable and dedicated staff member of DAISY For All. He lives in New Delhi and coordinates local DAISY efforts. Dipendra also actively participates in global conference calls regarding development and communication of DAISY technical projects.
We encourage other DAISY users to submit their story and get further involved.