Text-voice readers that enable visually challenged persons to access books, websites and other content have been around in English and many other languages for years. In Myanmar too, many have attempted over the years to develop the Myanmar Language version of some of the most popular conversion engines. This week, we brought one of the world’s leaders in such software, Dr Dipendra Manocha, and his colleague Mr Piyush Chanana to Yangon to diagnose the problem and map the way forward.
Dipendra and Piyush met with Myanmar National Association for the Blind (Mr. Benedict La Hkun and Mr. Aung Naing Tun), the Yangon Education Centre for the Blind (Rev. Thein Lwin: General, Ms. Mya Thida Lwin), iSchool (Mr Ye Win) and Myanmar Independent Living Initiative (Mr. Nay Lin Soe) and several others who have been pioneering the software in Myanmar (such as Mr. Min Maung (Bo Bo) and Mr Aung Lwin Oo).
It appears that the specific technical problems can be solved if the disabled community, linguists and the tech community come together, and can work consistently for about 2 months. Dipendra has done this across the world and across India, dealing with creating instances of the software for many languages other than his own native Hindi. He will coordinate from India and provide input when the local team runs into specific problems. We will get started in January 2017, and want to launch the completed software in the first quarter of 2017.
But a reader/converter is only as useful as the content it can read. In this context Myanmar has another challenge, which is the popularly used local font is not Unicode compatible, and therefore not readable by text readers. So Dipendra also met with Mr. Thaung Su Nyien who runs possibly Myanmars most popular news source, 7Day news, to try to stress the importance of launching a mobile app version of 7Day news using Unicode font.
All this is step 1. Creating awareness of the software, and then training the disabled community is the real challenge – how do we take this to every visually disabled person in Myanmar? We will rely on our current partners and many others in the coming year.