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A new aid for visually-challenged

Urvashi Sarkar

Photo: V. V. Krishnan

Easing studies: Audio Book Reader developer Shirish Darwhekar with visually-impaired persons demonstrating the use of the pocket-sized device in New Delhi on Monday.

NEW DELHI: A pocket-sized device called the Audio Book Reader (ABR) was launched here on Monday by Saksham, a Nagpur-based non-government organisation, to enable the visually-impaired to pursue their studies with greater ease. The device has been in use since 2008, when it was launched in Nagpur.

“The main feature of the ABR is that it reads audio files as opposed to other learning aids which read text files,” said Saksham special projects director Shirish Darwhekar at a press conference here.

“The ABR, which can store up to 60 hours of audio, is designed to read audio files that can be randomly accessed. The device is a compact model with mobility and has embossed buttons and a voice menu that make for easy navigation. The buttons help the user to identify book titles and directly access chapters. It has a bookmark facility whereby the user can resume from where he had left. The ABR comes with an external 2 GB memory card and a lithium ion rechargeable battery which can provide backup for eight hours. Audio files of any language can be uploaded to the device. The ABR is also available with audio distribution facility,” he added.

More than a crore

Explaining the need for ABRs, Mr. Darwhekar said: “According to the 2001 Census, there are 1.06 crore people in India who are visually-impaired. Of these, about 56 lakh are literate. In the absence of Braille books for complete course material, the devices that aid the visually-impaired in their studies are audio cassettes and compact discs. While compact discs get scratched and spoilt easily, audio cassettes too are becoming obsolete. More than 100 audio cassettes are needed to store the study material of Class X syllabus while even a greater number is required to store Class XII syllabus.”

He said there were special devices manufactured abroad for the visually-impaired which, however, were costly and not compatible with all languages.

Ramdas, a visually-challenged student of Delhi University, said: “Many visually-impaired students use MP3 pen drives. However, these devices cannot identify book title or chapter. Switching it on and off is complicated. However, an ABR does not have these problems. There is also the benefit of an external memory which can be extended at will. One can still store six-seven memory cards rather than 250 audio cassettes.”

Priced at Rs.4,000 apiece for personal use and Rs.5,000 for a classroom set-up with amplified speakers, these devices are not available in the open market. “The device has been invented for the visually-impaired and we want it to be available only to them. Therefore we are offering ABRs through channelised markets,” said Mr. Darwhekar.

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