Caring to the needs of the visually handicapped is indeed a challenge. This is especially true when it comes to providing them access to reading materials. Converting a full-length novel or an educational textbook to braille is a costly endeavor. It is also time-consuming. Aiming to find a solution to this, Mobitel, launched a voice library recently. This was done via Mobitel’s Nethrabhimana initiative.
What is the Nethrabhimana initiative?
In case you didn’t know, the Nethrabhimana initiative by Mobitel was set up in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Federation of the Visually Handicapped. It offers a number of ways where people can help those who are visually handicapped. These include direct bank deposits for funding and also a donation via SMS.
Once the voice library was completed, it was handed over to the Sri Lanka Federation of the Visually Handicapped under the patronage of Mobitel CEO, Nalin Perera. The voice library is actually the second phase of a project by Mobitel to help the visually handicapped. For Vesak last year, Mobitel made use of an Interactive Voice Response platform. These enabled users to listen to stories of five major Vesak Pandols on display in Colombo from the safety of their homes.
Mobitel set out to collect the sum required for the project by seeking the involvement and donations from the public. If a donation was made, Mobitel matched said donation equally. With each increase in the contributions, the project is able to be more beneficial to users.
How does the voice library work?
Rather than translating books into Braille, the Voice Library by Mobitel is essentially a collection of audio books that are accessible via any device. All the person needs are a pair of headphones and a playback device. This can be a smartphone, or CD Player, depending on the format that the audiobook is in.
In terms of the books themselves, you can convert a book into an audio book and add it to the voice library. The collection at the Voice library is currently growing with more books being added each day. Books are added as audiobooks after permission from the publisher is given.
Once that is all sorted, the federation will go about adding the book to the voice library. The actual reading of the book depends on how large the book is. The bigger the book, the longer it will take to read, and the longer it will take to convert to an audio book. If you’re interested, you can also pledge your voice to build the voice library as well. By clicking here, you can register and record the audio of you reading a book, making it available in the library.
How effective is this project?
Overall, projects such as the Voice Library by Mobitel and the SLFVH go a long way to help out the visually handicapped. While it is a start for Sri Lanka, there are still a number of aspects that need to be worked out.
For starters, reading an entire book to convert it into an audiobook can also be time-consuming. You will also need individuals with a clear speaking voice so that what is read back can be understood. In addition, there is no exact timeline on how long it would take to convert a physical book into an audiobook to be added to the voice library.
Technologies such as OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and AI can also be used to simplify the conversion process. For example, rather than getting someone to read an entire book, a scanner equipped with OCR can quickly scan the pages. From there, using AI bot, that can be converted into an audio file, minimizing human interaction.
All in all though, hats off to Mobitel for spearheading this initiative. Hopefully, they can also help maintain the voice library for future generations as well.