COMPUTER FOR THE BLIND IN IRANAND ITS ROLE IN JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR THEM.
History Of Using Computers Between The Blind In Iran.
The more time passes, the more we are involved within a computerized society and everyone either becomes interested or is made learn technology to become or remain up to date.
And the blind as an inseparable part of the global society cannot be as an exception to this rule.
In Iran, the campaign urging the blind to learn computer is rather a young movement and it almost started in the late 90’s.
The first time a company namely Pactus started making accessible hardwares/softwares for the blind.
Their products consisted of applications working under DOS operating system and special Perkins-like keyboards and Braille viewers.
Since their products were very very expensive, we don’t know any blind person that could have purchased them unless using complex methods of being benefited from subsidies.
As a result, the only method the blind could see their products was to attend rehabilitation
centers using Pactus softwares and hardwares purchased using governmental aids.
Their software package was something that we can call it almost a Persian version of Office
package include a library for the blind to study hundreds of books on the Braille viewers,
editor for creating documents and printing them, bidirectional dictionary (English-Persian and vice versa), and a simple version of Chess game.
They have tried to update this package step by step and now it works under windows XP with more achievements.
From the very beginning, the most popular of their products was the keyboard braille giving the blind user to type Persian characters as if they were using Perkins Braillers.
Especially they were welcomed in public schools for the blind like where I work.
their softwares were self-speech using recorded audio files making their application database considerably large.
And they enabled the blind to do basics of computer works.
In early 2001 the blind knew Jaws for Windows as the best screen reader and consequently they became very seriously familiar with computers.
Mahna as an NGO for the blind and the deaf, was the first NGO that began computer training and workshops for the blind in Tehran.
They taught the first generation of blind computer users that undoubtedly were and still are the most successful generation of computer users in Tehran.
Saf (Science and Art Federation) played the same role in Isfahan, another Iranian city but they were more facilitated than Mahna since they vastly used subsidies as a governmental organization and they are still getting ahead in their way.
they developed their projects to other cities including Tehran and they recorded the first audio books for the blind in Iran as self-education of computer technology.
In fact, the first generation of computer users either in Tehran or Isfahan led the training process of the blind computer users and even this has become a serious job opportunity for them.
the computer education has been followed by other organizations and now it is seriously followed in public schools, too.
The basis of this education is upon softwares and Braille Viewers are not general at al.
Instead, the most used-hardware are embossers.
They are used simply by NGOs or rehabilitation centers to afford the daily-increasing requests from the blind students to emboss their documents specially for academic uses.
Now the Iranian blind people specially those familiar with foreign languages seek new doors for their education and knowledge enrichment by finding new friends abroad.
They try to learn new languages, take online courses and so on even if very limitedly.
Work Experience For The Blind Using Computers:
The first open door for blind advanced computer users was to become computer teachers but this vision is rapidly developing.
low-vision users have found job opportunities as typists or clerks using magnification
softwares like Zoom-text or Magic.
In very rare cases, the blind could make temporary income in repairing computers for other blind people or even for sighted people.
And some others are working as translators that undoubtedly this job has become possible simply when computers entered their lives.
They work at home or offices.
In any manner, these job opportunities are very limited and still don’t make a remarkable percentage of occupied blind persons.
problems the Iranian blind confront in using computers:
When we talk about computers in Latin-based languages like English or Spanish, since the operating systems including Windows know them rapidly and since the assistive technologies including TTS, OCR, and screen reader softwares and so forth are available from different brands for the blind speaking such languages, this is not a serious issue to talk about such softwares but the issue is making progress in the quality of such softwares.
But for Farsi, the language of Iran, the subject is different and it is availability of such softwares. Up to now, there is no acceptable, high-quality Farsi TTS or OCR.
Pactus was the first company claimed making a TTS for Farsi working with Jaws.
While their software was almost 550 dollars, it crashed many times.
Another company working on this project is “AIR Soft” and they produced the first Farsi TTS that was so cheap that everyone could buy it.
Their first software has many many bugs that some could be prevented and some others need a lot of work since they refer to the specifications of Farsi language.
The problem of making a Farsi TTS is that contrary to Latin languages like English, the vowel sounds are not written in Persian and the font system is not a standard national one.
So what can be done?
some believe that we may use a big database of recorded words that is not wisely since it will be quite slow, almost will cause crash and slow down the webpage reading process for the blind. So the best way is using the phonemes of Farsi like designing TTSs for other languages.
Farsi has at most 190 phonemes that can be recorded to make a TTS using a synthesized voice that can be very similar to human voice.
the most innovative idea in my opinion is what the manager of a new computer company once told me and it is giving the software artificial intelligence and training it to recognize the Farsi grammar.
This way the software will recognize the pronunciation of a word while it can be pronounced in 2-5 forms depending on the position it has in a sentence.
Another technology that can help the blind specially to convert the printed materials in to text or even audio files is OCR (Optical Character Recognition).
This normal technology for the West is a wish in Iran too.
Depending on Farsi specifications this one is somehow complex to be made too.
The non-standard fonts used in many cases and the right-to-left writing style of Farsi
in addition to the format of its alphabet that makes its recognition for OCT softwares very
hard, are the main issues in developing such a software in Farsi.
Another issue is accessibility and up to now there is no rule to make the software producers make their products accessible for people with disabilities.
Lack of such softwares in addition to the high prices of available products in the Iranian market is another serious issue.
A new legislation has been ratified in the parliament to support disability rights but technological needs have been ignored in this case.
Once Pactus was the only company working on assistive technology and as a result, the price was high and illogical but the new companies are entering the market and making a balance in prices.
Besides, the government must support the blind in this case since it is almost natural to see such softwares in high prices since a basic factor in reducing the price is the number of users of a software that naturally is limited in the visually impaired people market.
One movement might be campaigns to urge the government to consider blind needs seriously and to consult them while making blind-related decisions in general.
Pursuing such a purpose made the blind sign an open-letter written for Iran’s president to order a Farsi TTS and OCR to those companies working in this field for many years.
We have tried to convince the government that having a Farsi TTS and OCR doesn’t mean necessarily to invest for the blind community but for all the society including the economic sections that such technologies would enormously reduce the time spent for recording audio files for talking systems or archiving the hand-written materials as digital archives.
Another solution for the blind can be a vast comprehensive outline to teach them programming so that they can both localize softwares and create new ones suitable for their mother tongue.
One of the movements in this case has been classes in Mahna held once to teach principles of programming and also hardware basics but they were cancelled due to financial issues of this NGO.
Another thing is the efforts a group of volunteer blind people made to hold the first computer conference with an outlook to blind perspective as a national conference and the second one as an international conference that both were quite successful.
Anyway, the computer movement for the blind is still young but very active.
So we must wait to see the results in coming days.