Education

The Road to Digital Learning and Employment in India

There are 62 million people with visual impairments in India who are deprived of a solid education and job training because of the lack of accessible learning materials. In fact, less than one percent of printed materials in the developing world are in accessible formats suitable for use by blind and low vision individuals. This lack of access to books, knowledge, and content leads to dependence and limited opportunities to succeed.

Traditional education for blind students relies on braille; however, braille has many limitations. The supply of braille books is limited, the books are fragile, bulky, and expensive to produce, and distribution to remote areas is difficult. And once blind students complete their specialized education, their ability to read and write only in braille excludes them from mainstream society and severely curtails their employment opportunities.

“Bookshare empowers individuals with disabilities to stand on their own, fulfill expectations of society, and live a life of dignity. Unless you help a person to grow, just pointing him to a book is not sufficient.”  —Dr. Homiyar Mobedji, Bookshare Asia/Africa Program Manager

When the COVID pandemic disrupted their usual activities, the Bookshare team, led by Dr. Homiyar Mobedji, quickly pivoted their approach from in-person workshops to online training. Using WhatsApp and Zoom, the team has trained over 15,000 people on digital literacy and Bookshare since February. The comprehensive program consists of an end-to-end solution encompassing:

  • Content – Bookshare, the world’s largest library of accessible ebooks for people with reading barriers, has over 960,000 titles in 63 languages (including Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada) in a range of subjects including state textbooks and STEM. Membership is free for persons with learning disabilities, visual impairments, or physical disabilities.
  • Devices – Bookshare partners with government and nonprofit organizations that often purchase or subsidize the cost of Android and other devices
  • Training – (1) basic digital literacy; (2) how to download and read Bookshare books; (3) how to write using an Android phone with mini-keyboard; and (4) how to become employable by acquiring certain skill sets.

The Bookshare team is now considered an authority in India for persons with blindness. The team, working with nonprofit partners like EnAble India, is changing society’s perception of blind people as dependent and less skilled. The team proved that technology removes dependence on human readers and scribes, and it enables blind people to read and write in the digital realm, just like sighted people. The team did much more than bring books to the blind; they connected readers and built an inclusive, virtual community.

Read the full story about Bookshare India’s success in the Benetech blog.

Contact: Dr. Homiyar Mobedji, homiyarm@benetech.org; +91-7875466344