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'Kannada Pustaka' open online library is empowering thousands of visually impaired students

A conversation with friends about the challenges faced by blind people in accessing education led Rakesh Kashyap to launch Kannada Pustaka, the first digital library of accessible Kannada textbooks. The library is empowering thousands of visually impaired students in Karnataka.

Over the years, technology has proved to be of immense help to people with disabilities. New gadgets and assistive devices aid disabled people to do things independently in their day to day lives. When it comes to education, many people with disabilities, especially visually impaired have access to technology that helps them to pursue higher education without any hassles.

Kannada Pustaka, an open online library of accessible Kannada audio textbooks, has come out with a text-to-speech project that aims to empower more visually impaired students. It's the brainchild of Rakesh Kashyap, who lives in Leeds, United Kingdom, and is a eco-physiologist.

Kashyap started Kannada Pustaka in 2015 after he quit his job as a consultant scientist and was gearing up to prepare for his higher studies. A conversation with friends about the challenges faced by visually impaired people motivated him to do something to make education accessible.

One of the main challenges was that textbooks in Braille are massive in size and hard to carry around. Kashyap hit upon the idea of doing something audio-based so students can listen repeatedly, even doing a last minute revision before entering the exam hall.

I felt having exclusive audio versions of textbook chapters are ideal because a visually impaired student can keep playing it as much as they want. The software for this was developed by Shivkumar and Ramakrishnan. People usually rely on cassettes, MP3s and now WhatsApp to record. But there are many loopholes as chances of errors are also high. For instance, the syllabi changes every year. The speech versions that you hear on our website are synthesised text to speech versions so that even people without disabilities can access them. -Rakesh Kashyap, Founder, Kannada Pustaka

Students of any age, be it in schools or colleges, can access Kannada Pustaka. They are also free of cost. Volunteers at Kannada Pustaka record the texts which are later scanned thoroughly by editors.

"All the details including page number and headings of chapters go to Google Docs. That gives us a clear idea of the syllabus, years, and chapters etc. Our work is done free of cost and we do not have any funding either. We do not want people to endorse our project. You can also play it on your Google assistant, says Kashyap.

Over 300 volunteers are a part of Kannada Pustaka. Currently, they have over 3,000 subscribers for the podcasts.

Dr Somashekhar Achar, a founder-volunteer of Kannada Pustaka, teaches biology to medical students. He does this work in his free time. "Google sheets are distributed to volunteers and I proof read them. It has been a great experience working with the team. I do this during my free time so that my work also doesn't get affected, he says.

You can check out more about Kannada Pustaka at their website https://kannadapustaka.org/.

ALSO READ: With exams round the corner, visually impaired students struggle for scribes


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