Call for publishers to come forward to help the print disabled!

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The office of the NGO called Saksham Trust (a member organisation of the Daisy Forum of India) is no different than any other office. One can see people working dedicatedly on their laptops. But may be you will realize the difference later on! Most of the people working diligently on their laptops have print disability – they cannot read!!! But, this is not all, they are helping people with print disability as well. Such people need something more than printed books. Varsha Verma brings an account of the need of books for the print disabled.

Not many people, like me, can read a printed publication, began Dipendra Monocha, president, Daisy Forum of India and founder manager trustee of Saksham Trust (also a member of Daisy Forum of India). “These people may include blind and people with low vision, illiterate, people suffering from dyslexia, people who cannot hold the books and also people with learning disability. All these people need much more than printed books. It is seen that people with learning disability can do much better if they are given not just printed books but also audio books. Infact, the success ratio is 10-20 percent with printed versions but coupled with vision or visual with audio, the success ratio goes to 50 percent,” he added.

So what are the print alternatives? “As is widely known, Braille is one, then there are talking books, digital books in specified format (DAISY which stands for Digital Access Information System) and large print books (for low vision people),” told Dipendra. “And the source of all these formats is of course digital. DAISY is the international standard for digital publications. “All the publications following DAISY standards can be easily converted into the voice books and Braille. DAISY defines all the details like page numbers, headings, images, etc. Even the digital player manufacturers are given those standards so that these players can play the text in DAISY format.”

DAISY standard is defined by 112 not-for-profit organizations from 52 countries like the NLS division of the Library of Congress, USA; Recording for Blind & Disylexic, Daisy Forum of India, TBP of Sweden; Swedish Library for Print Disabled, etc. The Daisy Forum of India has 82 members and all these members have a combined catalogue system to avoid duplication of books. ‘We have the exchange services, where members of the Daisy Forum of India can share the books with each other,” told Dipendra.

“The print disable people have the fundamental right to information. But only one percent of the print publications in India are accessible by the print disabled. The mandate for Daisy Forum of India is huge to bring this one percent to hundred percent, which is only possible when the publishers provide us the text in DAISY standard digital files and when the copyright laws enable us to have them free of publishers’ royalty. We cannot wait for permissions from the concerned publishers as it wastes a lot of time in the process. As many as 50-60 countries have given copyright exemptions to such NGOs and now we are trying to have a similar arrangement in India as well,” Dipendra raised the concern.

We share and are equally concerned about the intellectual property rights of the right owners. We would not want the content of the right owners to be stolen. However, we would like to work hand in hand with the publishers on one hand, protecting their content from piracy and on the other hand to get digital content for producing braille and accessible e-text books that persons with print disabilities could read,” added Dipendra.

It will be effective only when the print is published the same day it is available for the print disabled, just like widely circulated India Today magazine which can be accessed by these people in just an hour of its release. “They give us the digital files and we develop a talking version of the magazine within an hour of the receipt of the digital files. This magazine is developed in the computerized voice as its shelf life is short and if we convert it manually, it would consume a lot of time. As of now, 250 individual members access this magazine and we even send the same to over 40 organizations who then distribute it at their end,” told Dipendra.

“We also have a few tie-ups with well known publishers like Sage, Oxford University Press and Sheth Publishers, who provide us the digital files of the books which our members need from these publishers,” added Dipendra.

Another major challenge faced by the Daisy Forum of India is the lack of Unicode-based fonts (a standard for DAISY) in the regional languages. “All the European language fonts use the Unicode standard, which means that each alphabet is assigned a particular number which is same in all the fonts. This is not so in Indian regional languages. For example, if we convert the text typed in Hindi in Chankya font to a Unicode font like Mangal, it becomes an alien language, because the numbers assigned to the alphabets in both these fonts are different. So although, we have NCERT books available as a free download on their website, it is not of much use for us as the fonts used are not Unicode,” he explained. “Lack of standard keyboard layout is yet another issue faced by us.”

So, what are the formats which can be easily used by them? “XML, Word format, Open Office Word Document or HTML can be easily used. We have tools which can convert these files to DAISY and then they can be further used,” replied Dipendra.

All these books are available free of cost to their members. As of now, they have converted 25,000 books in all genres like textbooks for schools and universities, competitive books, bestsellers and Classics for general reading. “Earlier, it used to take 4-6 months time for a student to get his books, which we are trying to reduce and aim to give the students their books on their first day at school or university.”

Talking about Saksham Trust, Dipendra informed, “At Saksham Trust, we have various projects like digital textbooks production, running a school for the blind and offering books from Bookshare.org in north and east India. We also offer technological solutions to the print disabled people at affordable costs. The talking thermometer was launched by us in 2003, which has enabled them to measure their temperature. We also made the software to add speech in mobile phones in India available at affordable costs.”

“A fun project at our NGO is the audio description of movies where we describe the non-verbal portions of the movies. Few movies that have been audio described include Taare Zameen Par, Munna Bhai MBBS and more recently Peepli Live,” added Dipendra laughing. All these projects are ably handled by 30 direct employees and 70-80 volunteers.

With such strong will and the desire to reach out to all those who need these books, Daisy Forum of India is indeed doing a noble deed. It’s time that all the publishers come forward and help them in disseminating information, which is the prime aim of the publishing industry at large.

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