IT today has brought ample technologies to enable people with visual, hearing or other impairments to compete equally with those who don't. Here's a walkthrough
Saurangshu Kanunjna
A few weeks ago, TechShare India 2008 was held in Delhi, where prominent speakers put forward their vision on the role IT can play for the physically or visually challenged. The event was an eye opener for everyone, because it truly demonstrated how IT can help people with impairments lead their lives successfully. It made everyone present at the forum realize that a lot has changed since the days of Braille and Talking Libraries. With so much happening, we've decided to give you a peak into some of the key products and technologies that were showcased there. The technological developments in this field mean that such people can now pursue tasks of their interest, be it education, entertainment or even employment, with more ease. In fact there are many organizations that have taken the initiative to provide employment to physically and visually challenged people; and hence have also pushed the IT industry to come up with more innovative and simpler solutions. Such developments have opened up large opportunities for physically and visually challenged people to choose and explore. This enthusiasm and urge to be independent by people with disabilities has prompted solution makers to develop solutions that are specifically meant for them and enable them to lead independent lives.
Before we talk about the technology and solutions on offer, we must first salute the sheer determination and will power of these people, as it's easy to build a solution but to utilize it to the optimum level and push it to such an extreme, where it needs to be upgraded on a constant level, proves that these people can by no means be taken lightly. They want to lead a quality life and they know how to get it. They are not going to get bogged down with limitations of any kind.

Innovative products
We saw a plethora of solutions available for people with disabilities. These included everything from hardware gadgets, software, or even websites. Here's a glimpse of what's available:IBM's Easy Web Browsing: People with visual impairment can surf the web using this solution, wherein the content will be read out loud. It even allows a user to customize the size and color of the content as per convenience.
BarrierBreak Tech's Flash based e-Learning framework: This helps organizations provide online training to people with disabilities.
Braille Mitra: A solution where an entire book in any Indian language can be stored in the display and pronounced line by line. It's being used in many Indian libraries, where people with visual impairments can go and 'read' their favorite books.
Shree-lipi Braille: A software that converts text to Braille text sequences. Once it's been converted, one can easily take an imprint on a Braille reader like Braille Mitra. There's also a Braille printer that enables those with visual impairment to take a print out of their favorite book or even publish their own work.
JAWS: There are several screen readers like JAWS that convert text to speech and also read it out for you.
ORCA: An open source application that contains features like a speech synthesizer that supports Braille and a text magnifier. These devices provide visually impaired people the clarity they need to read and understand.
DOLPHIN Cicero: This solution enables you to turn your printed document into speech. Just put the printed document on a scanner and the software will translate it into speech, or into a large print.
Mobile Phone Magic: Mobile phones are used by everyone these days. However, due to their tiny screen sizes, it becomes difficult for visually impaired people to read them. Now, there is software available that enables them to understand the menu and listen to dial, missed and received calls along with voice prompt based navigation. Some of this software includes Mobilespeak, TALKS, and Call History.
Developments in HardwareBesides the software domain, there are developments happening in hardware as well, by both international and Indian organizations So whether it's a Palm top that allows visually impaired people a mobile environment with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and FM radio along with a Word Processor, File Manager, Web Browser, Email, MSN compatible messenger, or an image magnifier that comes with a 4.3� inch wide LCD and has the capability to zoom up to 28X the image size. So a visually impaired person can read the morning newspaper with an Image Magnifier as comfortably as any one else.
What's more, people with physical disabilities can also drive all around their house with the help of a remote control operated wheel chair called Ostrich Pristine, which runs on battery. There's also a home automation solution to move the furniture at the click of a button. So, if a person can't reach up to the top of a stack, they can instead press a button and move the stack downwards.
TechShare 2008 was indeed an eye opener with so many products and technologies. What was even more enthralling was the fact that many product demos were given by people who themselves suffered from some form of disability and had worked closely to develop the device.
We have come a long way from Braille solutions and are sure that in the coming years even more solutions would be made available in this domain.
Along with IT, all of us have a major role to play to ensure that the best of technology is delivered and newer technological breakthroughs are achieved to tap the un-quantified potential of these people.

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