Technology Puts Career Within Reach for Blind Engineering Student

By Laura Deck, posted on

Bookshare ebook library and Thorium screen reader allow blind engineering student to earn Bachelor of Science degree

In 2017, Giridhar was like any other student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering at CMR Institute of Technology in Bangalore, India. Halfway through the four-year degree program, however, he unexpectedly lost his sight due to a health complication. At that moment, everything changed for him. How would he be able to read his course materials, especially the books containing technical equations and mathematical expressions? He desperately needed to find a solution in order to achieve his academic and career goals.

Map of India on the left, photo of Giridhar on the right, Bookshare logo is below photo

Technical Content Poses a Challenge

One solution was to record his classes, but this proved to be time consuming and ineffective. The bigger challenge was converting the technical content in his course materials into a digital format such as DAISY or EPUB files that could be read by screen reader software. “I use an optical character recognition (OCR) reader to convert my books into Microsoft Word format, and then I use a DAISY player to read the text,” explains Giridhar. “This process is adequate for books that consist of all text, but it is ineffective for books with charts and graphs because the headings get scattered around the Word document.” He tried extracting the technical equations and putting them in a separate document, but it was a tedious process and not very helpful.

Giridhar realized that there had to be a better way to learn more efficiently, so he turned to Mr. George Sebastian, an accessibility consultant at EnAble India, a nonprofit that provides services and resources for persons with disabilities. He also received assistance from Dr. Homiyar Mobedji, Program Manager for Bookshare Asia & Africa, who set him up with a Bookshare membership and helped him find the academic books he needed. Bookshare is an ebook library for people with reading barriers such as dyslexia, blindness, and cerebral palsy that provides books in audio, audio + highlighted text, braille, large font, and other formats.

The Right Reading App Makes All the Difference

Dr. Homiyar introduced Giridhar to Thorium, a free EPUB reading application for Windows 10 that supports MathML and reads math expressions and technical equations. “I tested some of the books in EPUB using Thorium, and we improvised gradually using mathematical expressions,” he explains. “Thorium can read the equations one by one, and that saves a lot of time.” Thorium allowed Giridhar to navigate through his course materials at his own pace, and the image descriptions increased his understanding.

Giridhar uses a variety of devices to read: smartphone, tablet, and computer. For technical materials he uses a personal computer most of the time. For nontechnical content, he uses a DAISY player or EPUB reader. “Most of my academic books are in English and available on Bookshare,” he says. “Bookshare has made my goals attainable and made it easier to pursue my education.”

The Future Looks Bright

As a result of his ability to read books in digital formats, he is on track to graduate. He plans to pursue a career in the field of sustainable energy, with an emphasis on electrical engineering and technology. He is also interested in developing accessible software for his own needs. He enjoys being self-sufficient and independent, and he can take his reading skills and tools with him on his career path.

What advice does Giridhar have for other students with visual impairments? “First, figure out what you want to pursue in your career and never back off. Don’t be influenced by your peers and do what society thinks you should do,” he says. “People can succeed in whatever they want to do, especially with the help of technology. Follow your passion and do not deviate from what your heart says. That strategy will keep you satisfied and happy for the rest of your life.”

More About Bookshare in India

Benetech has been working to provide accessible books in India since 2008, and we have built a powerful coalition of partners and a solid ecosystem serving over 19,000 Bookshare members with a collection of more than 590,000 English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Malyalam, Telugu, and Gujarati accessible books. Bookshare has also made the study of STEM subjects possible with the introduction of completely accessible titles with navigable equations and alt-text provided for images. Additional funding enables us to bring even more books to more individuals with disabilities in India.

Learn more about how Bookshare is enabling inclusive education in South Asia