Libraries for the Visually Impaired
The Government of India and UGC have endorsed these guidelines. The main objective behind this is “access for all”. Libraries are an integral part of any academic institution whether at school or university level, and unless there is an easy access to it, the students won’t be able to completely reap the benefits of the educational system.
The term “access” does not only pertain to physical access, but it also includes provision of aids and appliances and availability of other resources and services. This needs the development of various policies, programmes and strategies. Sensitizing people and development of right attitudes also a pre-requisite to it and the over all services need to be monitored.
Though there is an inadequacy in the academic library services for the visually disabled yet some of the Indian universities have come forward and have taken the initiative of establishing specialized library services for them.
Some of these universities are:
- Bharathihar University,Tamil Nadu, is one of them, where a ‘Talking Book Library’ has been introduced with the help of Rotary Club.
- There are 1,000 books in the form of CDs and audio cassettes for the use of those have visual impairment.
- There is also a proposal to modify the physical infrastructure of the Bharathiar University to suit to the needs of disabled students.
- Jammu University has made available software known as JAWS i.e. (Job Access with Speech). It has been installed to convert hard copy to voice.
- A Resource Cell too has been opened to cater to the needs of the visually impaired.
- Delhi University has launched a multi-purpose resource centre.
- The existing Braille Library has been extended. The Braille Library is established in the Central Reference Library.
- The facilities like Braille production, talking books and electronic text preparation are provided.
All these new initiatives have helped over 400 visually challenged students. The installation of computer equipped special software which can translate textbooks in regional languages in Braille format is part of the setup.
Now students can avail the benefits of modern equipment like Braille printer, audio cassettes containing reading and reference material. There is also a provision of special studios where audio cassettes are converted into text messages in Braille.
JNU Library which is a store house of all Govt. publications and publications and some important International Organisations like WHO, European Union, United Nations and its allied agencies etc, too has taken steps to provide facilities to the students with sight impairment.
A separate unit named Hellen Keller Unit has come up in the Reading Hall. There are twenty computers and scanners with screens, reading and speech software. This special unit has been set up for the advantage of blind students who won’t be facing any shortage of study material. These students now have access to twenty two international online databases covering about 10,000 full text journals. Apart from this, there are 4,500 full text scholarly electronic journals from 25 publishers across the globe.
Punjab University too has come forward in this direction. It has established a special section library for visually impaired. Here as in other places, special software has been provided which can convert the contents of books into audio records.
University of Calcutta and National Association of the Blind (NAB) together have opened a remarkable ‘Digital Braille Library and Audio Recording Workstation’ where the visually disabled persons would be able to avail all modern learning equipments.
Lucknow University’s library, Dr. Manohar Lohia Library, has been set up exclusively for visually disabled students. It has the sitting capacity for fifty students at a time. Much has been done and still a lot needs to be achieved. To make the libraries more accessible to the visually impaired many essential types of equipment are required.
Some of these are:
- Braille input device - It is a key board which include eight keys for entering dot information forming a Braille character.
- Braille output device - It is the computer terminal for displaying Braille character which raises dots through holes in a flat surface.
- Braille printer – This embosses Braille characters line by line.
- Braille translation software – It is used to convert text to Braille format using computer and Braille embosser.
- Optical Character Reader (OCR) – It is a system to transform the hard text to image text and it also converts image text to machine readable text.
- Speech synthesizer - This system converts computer readable text language to voice speech (artificial human speech).
- Four-track Cassette recorder – It records any voice and plays any recorded voice collected in cassette.
- Large print printer – It can produce large print of any size.
- Screen magnifying software – It is used to enlarge the text on computer screen.
- CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) – It is a television with video camera. It can be used by the person with low vision to magnify any printed document.
Websites of universities should also be organised so that they may be used by the visually impaired users comfortably.
Apart from this a formal reader service sections needs to be established in academic libraries. As all documents are not available in their technology savvy form at this point Reader Service can provide the ‘right information to the right user at the right moment’.