January 09, 2006.
Nation Multimedia - Bangkok, Thailand.
The National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec), aided by a research team at Prince of Songkla University, has developed a Braille notebook - a special notebook computer for the blind.
The Braille notebook is a portable computer on which users can key in Braille. Those who are visually impaired can use the notebook to key in information, which can be printed either in Braille or in normal text format. The device could be an important tool to allow the blind to work but is rather expensive at around Bt280,000 per unit.
Realising this, the Assistive Technology Centre at Nectec, which oversees the local development of assistive technology, has decided to work on it further to bring down the cost of the device.
Programme manager Wantanee Phantachat at the Assistive Technology Centre said the centre has allotted Bt5 million to the research team at Prince of Songkla University for the development.
The development is underway and it is expected that a Thai Braille notebook prototype will be available by next year.
Unlike the conventional notebook computer, which is equipped with dozens of buttons, the Braille notebook will have only seven buttons, called Braille cells, to facilitate easy typing for the blind.
The notebook's keyboard will work like shorthand that makes it possible to write messages using a combination of these seven keys. Its size therefore is only one-third that of the normal notebook.
Wantanee said using this kind of notebook, the blind could enter information wherever they wanted, and importantly, the output could come in both Braille and as a normal text document.
"This will help the blind to not only easily create their own Braille documents for use amongst themselves but also convert them to normal text documents for other people at the same time," she said.
After the prototype comes out, the centre plans to work with the private sector for mass production. It is expected the Thai-made Braille notebook will cost only Bt80,000.
In the meantime, Wantanee said the centre is also working with the research team on screen reader software.
Screen reader is software that can read all text shown on a computer screen out in voice mode so it's very useful for the blind when they use computers.
Popular screen reader software called Jaws, which is used among blind people in Thailand, is very expensive - one single license costs Bt50,000.
Wantanee said this project's developers hope to build Thai screen reader software at a lower cost so those who are visually impaired could use it without limits on their budgets.
However, to make the software work well in the Thai language, the centre plans to negotiate with Microsoft (Thailand) to open some source codes in the Windows operating system to facilitate the development process.
"This development requires cooperation from Microsoft to allow the Thai-made screen reader software to fully read Thai," she said.
The project is in its conceptual design stage.
The centre also plans to set up a long-term research team to oversee this development project in the future. This is because the Thai-made screen reader software will need to be developed continuously following upgraded versions of Microsoft's Windows operation system.
However, there is another alternative to develop the screen reader software. "The open-source concept," she said.
End of article.
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