Navpush Verma is a final-year student at Delhi University. Like many visually challenged students he uses the Internet to access information with the help of a screen reading (audio) software, in addition to Braille and talking books. But, he does not have access to most documents and books because they are not available in these formats.
However, for Navpush and his friends 2008 could make a difference.
By June, a software plug-in designed jointly by Microsoft Corporation and Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium - a coalition of talking libraries and non-profit organizations - will be released. "It would be a freeware. What this means is it can be downloaded free of cost," said Navpush.
Currently, in India, less than one per cent of published material is accessible to people with visual disability, according to the National Association for the Blind.
"With the plug-in I will be able to translate online documents into DAISY documents myself. It will make me a lot more independent," Navpush added.
The National Association for the Blind (NAB), which is a member of the DAISY consortium, has called it a "giant step towards creating equal access to information".
According to Dipendra Manocha, director, IT and Services, NAB, the plug-in is a revolutionary tool.
"It will change how much and what the visually challenged can read. The user has an option to save the file as a DAISY document and this document can be converted to Braille, talking book or large print document in a very short time using open source software tools," says Manocha.
The freely downloadable plug-in is a boon for organisations like NAB, which are involved in translation of books and journals for blind students. It will dramatically reduce the time and cost of producing Braille documents, talking book or large print document using open source software tools.
"At present, NAB publishes about 200 books a year, once this software hits the net, we will be capable of publishing approximately 2000 books," says Manocha. Merely by clicking on the "save as DAISY XML" option, word documents can be almost instantly translated to a format accessible to blind users.
DAISY documents allow more intelligent navigation by the user, allowing him or her to quickly locate chapters or go to a specific page. It also allows one to re-read sentences and find phrases in the text.