At my fingertips

At my fingertips

a whole new world Students use 2D animation images to study art

In 2003, St Xavier’s College, Mumbai did not have a single visually challenged student on its roster despite the fact that it took pride in its policy of equal opportunities and affirmative action. Dr Sam Taraporevala, Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology, was curious, not because he is visually challenged himself, but because he was sure there was a problem somewhere.
A few months of research proved that there was no support system in place for blind students. Dr Taraporevala made it his mission to set things right.

Humble beginnings

While the management appreciated his idea of setting up a resource centre for the visually challenged, they made it clear that there would be no funds coming his way. Undaunted, Dr Taraporevala found sponsors for one computer with screen reading technology and the Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) was started in a small room under one of the stairways in the college.

“We were astonished by the result: the single PC brought eight visually challenged students in the first year. By the second year, we had 16 students,” he says. With support from the management, he added more computers and expanded the range of technology. XRCVC also provided book scanning facilities for students who had no  access to printed books.

“Without e-Books, students cannot prepare for examinations or follow what is being taught in class. By installing scanners with appropriate OCR software we are able to provide soft copies of books. This facility is not restricted to our college students; we offer it to outsiders as well,” Dr Taraporevala explains.

Right to Read campaign

“One of our students wanted Economics text books in an accessible format. He told me he would pay for them and wanted to know if the publishers had soft copies of the books. I discovered that I had to obtain special permission from the Human Resources Ministry to get the publisher to provide e-Books,” says Dr Taraporevala, who has been actively campaigning for the Indian Copyright Law (1957) to be amended to include books in accessible formats.

XRCVC networks with several NGOs involved in the Right To Read campaign, urging the Ministry of HRD to support an international initiative to include accessibility as part of Copyright laws.

XRCVC is now the designated agency for Bookshare India, where books — published in India and abroad — are provided in electronic format for the visually challenged, with necessary permissions from the publishers.

XRCVC has also launched Project Access and teamed up with Sight Savers International (SSI) to work on helping the blind get access to banking  services. They’ve persuaded two companies that provide ATMs to install a ‘talking ATM’ (prototype) for students on the Xavier’s campus.

For more details, go to http://www.xrcvc.org, emil sam@xrcvc.org or call 022 2262 3298.

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