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Computers a touch away for the blind
- IIT Guwahati team develops software to aid the visually impaired in typing

March 23: The visually impaired can soon become computer-savvy, thanks to IIT, Guwahati, which is trying to help bring the personal computer closer to them.

A five-member team of students and faculty members of IIT, Guwahati, has developed a new software to help visually challenged persons acquire keyboard skills.

The team today held a demonstration of a prototype of the software, Chaksu, for the students of Government Blind School at Pilingkata in the Basistha area of the city.

The IIT team comprises associate professor S.B. Nair, assistant professors P.K. Das and J.K. Deka, and two M. Tech students, Arindam Choudhury and Uday Trivedi, of the computer science and engineering department.

'By using this software, a visually-challenged person can easily learn typing skills on a computer with the help of speech interface. As the student keys in an English alphabet, the computer will pronounce it. With regular practice for about a week, the person will become aware of the positions of the alphabet on the keyboard and gradually his typing speed will start improving,' said Deka.

With the help of the software, the computer will also spell out words and entire sentences as soon as they are keyed in. It also provides the facility of checking spellings. Windows is the operating system of the software.

'We will not go for commercial marketing of the software. Our basic aim is to provide the software to blind schools free of cost to help visually-challenged students acquire typing skills. This will help them to get meaningful employment,' Deka said.

The team has been working on the project since May last year and the software's trial version was ready early this month.

'We also held a demonstration in another school in the 10th mile area of the city and collected feedback from the users so as to add more features to it in its next versions,' Deka said.

At present, the software works only in English language. But its developers plan to make it compatible in Assamese also.

'Similar products have been developed in foreign countries, but the institutions here would find it very expensive to import them. We are trying to develop the software with indigenous technology at minimal cost,' Deka said.

The team will install the software in two computers of Government Blind School shortly.

'Within a week the software could be downloaded from the official website of the IIT, Guwahati,' Deka said. He added that they would go for copyright and patent the product after the next version was released.

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