Friday, September 26, 2008

Battling for the blind

IT companies in western India have taken several unique initiatives to help the visually challenged secure jobs. These include the launch of a new technology that reads out content on internet and a voluntary organisation run by IBM employees to impart technical and communication skills to the blind.

For 31-year-old Jalinder Shelgaonkar, who has done his post-graduation in Economics, the road to professional achievement suddenly turned narrow and clogged.

That's because of his visual impairment that cut out almost all the options that he could have tapped in any sector.

"I was beginning to feel that my education would eventually turn out to be a waste of time and effort. I simply couldn't get a job," he says.

That's when Blind and Blue, an initiative taken by employees of IBM in Pune, came to his rescue. Volunteers of this informal organisation taught Jalinder the basic skills of working in a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) centre and he is now all set to jump-start his career.

"I was also taught personality development and that helped boost my self-confidence," he states.

Similar is the case of 24-year-old M Dhananjay who, because of his visual impairment, had never dreamt that he would one day find a job with an established BPO.

Confidence building

"I was taught computer operating skills that include Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word and Excel. I have also become proficient at spoken English and I know now how to handle telephone conversations," he says.

Elaborating on this project, Darshak Shah, a system software engineer with IBM, says, "We are working in collaboration with the Poona Blind Men's Association and the objective is to enable visually challenged youngsters to find jobs in the mainstream sector and become financially independent”.

So far, 45 such students have been trained, many of whom will start working with IBM's BPO Daksh. "The classes are held daily over a period of three months and the emphasis is on imparting technical, communication and social skills.

The project is managed by qualified professional volunteers who dedicate about two hours every week to teaching," informs Abhishek Malu, an application programmer and a volunteer of Blind and Blue.

Making web access easy

Meanwhile, in an effort to make the internet accessible to the visually impaired, a Pune-based IT company has introduced a technology that will read out content on internet or email on a toll free number.

While still in its early stage, the technology is able to offer the information in English but will soon include other languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali and Urdu. The technology has been developed by US-based netECHO and Pune-based Knowaysys Technologies has undertaken the bid to implement it.

Says Sundeep Bedi, Chief Executive Officer, Knowaysys Technologies: "We are in talks with a number of NGOs and also with the government of India to make the customer number toll free across the country so that this service will be accessible to the needy. The company is planning to have 1.80 lakh users in the next 18 months”.

Elaborating on how it will work, Bedi explains: "The person has to call the number and on verbal instructions, can surf the internet. To access email the person has to say the word 'email' so that the machine can open the respective account and read out the content of each email. Similarly, a person will be able to listen to news, reviews and articles that have been posted on the internet."

Further, the Rotary Club of Poona Downtown has released a set of 12 CDs for blind students studying in the tenth standard. These CDs contain the syllabus for all the subjects.

"The work for the CDs began last year. Members of the club have read out the books of tenth standard and recorded the entire content. The best part is that this is not limited to only the textbooks but also includes the guides for each of the subjects," informs Jitu Mehta, President of the club.


These CDs have been sponsored by the club's members and will be distributed free to blind students as also to schools for the blind.


Source: http://southasia.oneworld.net/ictsfordevelopment/battling-for-the-blind

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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