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For Blind Students, the Net’s in sight- Indian Express (Mumbai Newsline)- By Meeta Bhatti

Date on which testimonial was published:
1 Dec 2000

In a nook in Synthofine Estate, Goregaon (E), Rajeev Shah is taking a computer class: “The links on a website are blue,” he says in his first lesson. Says Shah, for he knows it. Not because he can see it. Totally blind, US based Shah, is here on a month long trip to hold a 15-day computer workshop for the visually challenged. At the end of the workshop for the visually challenged. At the end of the workshop, the student who excels will get a laptop from Shah.

On the first day the course looks more than fetching with Shah arriving before time. Behind sleek Ray Bans, he faces his Toshiba Satellite his busy fingers belying the fact that he has never seen the light. Having lost his sight to excess oxygen in the incubator, where he was kept because of premature birth, Shah made his way up from New Activity School in Mumbai to being a technology trainer at the Columbia Lighthouse where he uses his computer skills to help people like him.

Shah is Word Perfect has knowledge of Lotus Notes, is adept at Microsoft Windows and Excel, with a solid background in HTML, the Internet and computer hardware. His forte, however, is software for the blind – apart from strong familiarity in international broadcasting and skills in drafting press and policy statements for Members of Parliament in the US.

“It’s called JAWS. The computer reads aloud what a blind person types,” Shah explains about the screen reading software, which is also being used by the nine students at Voice Vision India, where he is holding the workshop.

Conceived bt Aarti Bubna, Voice Vision India was started in April this year from the frustration budding out of ‘No Scope’ boards for the blind everywhere. Aarti was born with cataract in both her eyes and lost her fading vision in 1997.

When I was denied admission at NIIT, I started this computer institute for the blind she says. For it was after she started the institute that she met Shah over e-mail. “We were both sharing a problem about JAWS on the Net when he asked me if I was Indian. Eight months into the year, he’s here to help. We have met for the first time though he’s been here for a fortnight now,” says Bubna, sharing her enthusiasm with her students, who are restless to learn more about the Internet.

Lesson II, Lesson III and Lesson IV, the lecture goes on from the history of the Internet (dating back to Sputnik being launched by Russia in 1958) to the early Eighties when e-mail was developed in UCLA (University of California Los Angeles Campus). “What My God Wrought was the first e-mail sent from Stanford to the University of California,” says Shah as his students explore the web.

Vishakha More seems to be the most confident. Self-trained on the Net, she takes time off from making cakes and chocolates to order for computers. Payal Jethia is still learning. She feels her watch, to know the time – her students will come for tuition at 2 pm. And Mohammad Sheikh works in an advertising firm. Partially blind, he has taken 15 days off specially for this course.

While they work, Shah expresses concern over the lack of resources in India for the blind. “In the US, we have access to books on tape, talking magazine, can have the newspaper read to us on the phone and then hear books as JAWS reads them aloud,” he says.

“However, when I wanted to order books in Hindi from India, they told me there’s only low-class literature in Braille. The high-class literature is on tapes. But you lose contact with the written word through tapes.”

And that’s what Shah doesn’t want. For, he loves to read R K Narayan, Anita Desai, E M Forester and Earnest Hemmingway, And he wants to read them in German (he has a masters in the language), in French (which he picked up in 30 days), in Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi. “The anchor of our life is the word in front of us, if not the light.”

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