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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

World’s largest accessible library reaches out to visually impaired in UAE

Silicon Valley company wants to bridge gap with plan of Arabic library for print disabled

A pupil reads Braille notes downloaded from the Bookshare library. The world’s largest online library of accessible books is now in the UAE aiming to get private and government companies, schools and colleges on board to turn manuals, journals, material into accessible content for the visually impaired. Courtesy Benetech
A pupil reads Braille notes downloaded from the Bookshare library. The world’s largest online library of accessible books is now in the UAE aiming to get private and government companies, schools and colleges on board to turn manuals, journals, material into accessible content for the visually impaired. Courtesy Benetech

People with visual impairments could soon have access to the world’s largest online library which allows them to download and print braille.

Silicon Valley company Benetech has begun working with Dubai Police and individual members to join its Bookshare library in a bid to give people who are visually impaired access to literature with the help of private and government organisations, schools and colleges.

“Students are left behind when they don’t have the material to study. If we are talking inclusive education of able bodied with people with determination, let’s bring them together. A biology book of a sighted reader should be the same biology book made accessible for a person with a print disability and then they are inclusively together as one society,” said Teresa Jenna, the international lead for Benetech.

The company plans to expand across the Middle East but has first turned its attention to the UAE.

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“My purpose for the Middle East, starting with the Emirates is to find people who would like to build a library with all their training materials, manuals that will be accessible to the print disabled. It could be the transportation sector, airlines, banking, insurance, advertising all those industries that produce their own material and need to make it accessible to people with disability,” said Ms Jenna.

The non-profit organisation has more than 500,000 books from preschool through college in various disciplines that can be downloaded to an embosser machine that prints the content in braille.

The library also converts text to speech and can convert math, images and video into formats that can be downloaded onto a computer, telephone or tablet used by a person with special needs.

The tech company is working with Dubai Police to make its legal manuals print accessible for staff with reading challenges.

“In the Dubai Police Academy we have more than 200 legal books and Bookshare has a special system to read the words so people who are blind can just hear the sound from a text document,” said Majid Al Shaikh, who works with the Dubai Police staff with disabilities.

“It can also be used to translate the documents into the Braille language. So we are starting with the Dubai Police Academy to help people with determination. But on their website there are also Arabic texts, so any blind person who knows Arabic can also read and download our books. It can help people around the world.”

The company works in more than 100 countries with India being a special focus since it has among the largest number of people with disabilities in the world.

Benetech has been working in India since 2008 to create textbooks and children’s books with content in English and several Indian languages that benefits schools, colleges and institutions working with the print disabled.

Although it currently has just over 300 accessible books in Arabic, it aims to create the largest Arabic library by reaching out in the UAE and the Middle East across all sectors.

The company also trains people to use its software and convert books into accessible formats.

“I would like to see an Arabic focussed library become as big as the English focussed one. We started at zero we have 310 accessible Arabic books, we started over 15 years ago with zero and we have a half million plus books,” said Ms Jenna who has been visiting the UAE since the 1970s.

“I have watched this country become a magnificent example of the what the future holds. I think the next step for a smart city includes print access and building an Arabic library for the print disabled with both Arabic and English texts. So we are asking companies, the government instead of starting over and making their own library, let us engineer and construct it.”