Currently a blind student in India needs to rely on the services of a scribe. A scribe is a person who reads and writes on behalf of the blind student. According to CBSE’s suggestion scribes for blind class 10 students can be from classes VIII or IX.
A scribe traditionally is a profession with its roots in ancient civilisations, when the literacy rates were a lot less than today. Literate people were employed to write and maintain records; most religious and other records were written by scribes of the day.
With the advancement of technology, a new technology has now become available and the CBSE has allowed students to appear for 2013 board exams using this technology, provided they bring their own computers!
JAWS, (Job Access with Speech) is an interactive computer screen reading program. In simple words this means the computer will read out to a student the contents of the screen that the student is viewing. This program was developed in St Petersburg, Florida, US; specifically for the purpose of assisting visually impaired and blind people. It was developed largely utilizing the assistance of visually impaired people of the “blind and a low vision group”. A survey by Web-AIM found this software to be the world’s most popular screen reader in May 2012.
How the Software Works is simple. Users are either provided with a USB (universal serial bus) key, and |or institutions can purchase the software license net registration key for three computers at a time. The JAWS software is compatible with all versions of windows including the very latest windows 8, there are no compatibility issues with any windows operating systems and this software can be installed on any normal computer.
JAWS is currently the only program in the world which is compatible with every version of windows operating system.
When a person a purchases a USB key, they can simply attach that particular USB to any computer and the computer will get JAWS activated, enabling a visually impaired person to simply use any computer. The cost of this USB licensed software is 24,000 rupees per a key. This can assist a person not only for education, but for their career as well.
For institutions that are interested in installing such software on their own computers for students to access, they can purchase 3 licence keys for 62,000 rupees. These keys will allow the user to either connect to the Internet and use the JAWS software or the user can also install the software on the computer with a CD (compact disc) that they’ll receive. This is a onetime cost only for institutes.
JAWS according to a distributor in Mumbai, is a software that allows a visually impaired person a very high degrees of control over their computers and the Internet. A visually impaired person can operate this software without facing any problems up to the extent of developing new
computer programs | Software’s and accessing Web Servers. The software provides all the solutions for a visually impaired person to operate at par with a normal person.
Although the CBSE has permitted students to appear for exams using this technology, apathy is still clearly visible with various officials such as Jerald Inico (Asst professor of computer science) in Loyala college commenting that “the software may not read out next accurately and students need six months training to use the software” incidentally Jerald was also in charge of the department for the “Differently Abled ”.
Other comments by officials include statements such as “extremely high cost” and “importing equipment” being a deterrent for implementing and utilizing the technology. Some officials interviewed however, cautiously made statements such as “it will definitely be useful but we’re not sure how it will work”.
It is yet to be seen how far and how well this life changing technology is implemented to help blind students in India achieve their maximum potential. In other parts of the world this technology has been successfully implemented on a large scale for visually impaired and blind students.