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Bringing Accessible Content to Print Disabled Users in Developing Countries


By Catherine Jewell, Information and Digital Outreach Division, WIPO

In July 2023, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and WIPO signed an agreement to integrate the TCS Access Infinity Platform to WIPO’s Accessible Books Consortium’s (ABC) partner libraries in developing countries. The collaboration promises to further boost the number of titles available to users in accessible formats in these countries. In a recent interview with the WIPO Magazine, Charudatta Jadhav, Principal Scientist and Head of Accessibility Research and Innovation at TCS, and a key architect of Access Infinity, discusses the challenges associated with building this groundbreaking platform and its impact in transforming the digital publishing landscape and the lives of millions of users with print disabilities.

The Access Infinity platform from Tata Consultancy Services offers users with print disabilities seamless access to the books and information they need. (Photo: FG Trade / E+)

How did the development of the platform come about?

At TCS where I work, we do research and development in diverse areas for accessibility. This includes automation platforms to standardize accessibility implementation, content accessibility, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning (ML)-based solutions to help people with disabilities overcome their limitations, and research on futuristic technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), brain-machine interfaces, computer vision, air gestures and so on. TCS believes in giving back to the community. That is why, in partnership with the Daisy Forum of India (DFI), we have built, deployed, and continue to technically support the Access Infinity platform across India at no cost to ensure its seamless operation. The platform is just one expression of our corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments.

Our aim was to develop a country-wide digital ecosystem that would enable people with print disabilities to access content in the format they need to live fruitful and independent lives.

The Access Infinity initiative was sparked when we learned from DFI and others that only five percent of the content published around the world is available in accessible formats. We started investigating the problem. Our aim was to develop a country-wide digital ecosystem that would enable people with print disabilities to access content in the format they need to live fruitful and independent lives.

What main challenges did you face in developing the platform?

The success of the platform hinged on its seamless deployment and uptake. To achieve this, we had to address the specific concerns of each group of stakeholders (publishers, content creators and distributors, and end users), without disrupting their established processes. In a country where multiple languages are spoken and where people have varying technology competencies, it was a huge challenge.

Only by preventing content from entering the mainstream to avoid damaging stakeholders’ commercial interests, could we build publishers’ confidence in the system.

We also had to ensure that the ecosystem we developed complied with national copyright law in terms of ensuring that only bone fide users can access content through the platform. Only by preventing content from entering the mainstream to avoid damaging stakeholders’ commercial interests, could we build publishers’ confidence in the system.

Through in-depth analysis of the digital publishing landscape in India, we came up with idea of the Access Infinity ecosystem, and in the process, we developed a variety of innovative technologies.

What types of solutions did you develop to address stakeholders’ concerns?

For the publishers, we developed our one-click solution. In India, publishers are generally family-owned businesses, and many were reluctant to switch to “born accessible” book production. Their concerns ranged from the capital investment and the training it required, to the perceived threat to their commercial interests resulting from sharing content with third-party organizations for conversion into accessible formats.

Our one-click solution addresses these concerns without compromising security or imposing heavy training requirements or capital investment. Content is uploaded in different formats, (text, word, html, rtf, xml) and in one click is converted into braille, E-PUB3, Daisy, or Daisy audio/text synchronize formats. Upon conversion, the source file is deleted.

And for end users?

For end users, who have diverse needs, we developed a multi-channel delivery system with a variety of download options, including via a dedicated web application, a mobile phone or an API embedded in DAISY readers. We retained an offline distribution process so books can be downloaded and shipped through SD cards and CD via libraries when necessary.

We also developed a national catalogue of works in accessible formats to overcome the crippling limitations and eliminate the wasteful duplication associated with the pre-existing system of producing and distributing books in accessible formats.

Users access the catalogue through a simple log-in system and can request the books they want, in the format they need, from anywhere in India.

The Access Infinity platform is a one-stop solution.

In sum, the Access Infinity platform is a one-stop solution. It addresses the concerns of all stakeholders; ensures the accountability of all parties; offers seamless access to educational resources and services; and is fully compliant with India’s national copyright law and the Marrakesh Treaty.

How long did it take to develop?

Work began in 2014. We launched the platform officially in 2016, and we continue to enhance it in response to users’ feedback. For example, we are currently developing new online reading capabilities, including interfaces with Alexa and Google Home, so users can search and download content through these channels. These and other enhancements will enable us to future proof the platform.

Why it is so important to make content accessible for people living with print disabilities.

Access to information in accessible form is a fundamental need and an integral part of an individual’s development. When people with print disabilities are unable to access the information they need, every aspect of their life is compromised and made more difficult. It’s impossible to read a novel, a newspaper, a menu, a medical prescription and more.

Access to information in accessible form is a fundamental need and an integral part of an individual’s development.

Access to information has a tremendous impact on an individual’s ability to get an education, secure employment, achieve economic empowerment and independence and to integrate socially.

Access Infinity helps create an environment where people with print disabilities can access the content they need, compete on equal terms, and make a meaningful contribution to society and the economy.

Since the deployment of Access Infinity in India, what impact are you seeing?

To date, around 700,000 more titles are now available in accessible format through the platform. Educational content in accessible format is now available in 18 of India’s 33 State Education Boards, as well as many undergraduate and postgraduate university programs, including selected doctoral programs. Students entering the highly competitive Civil Service exams and MBA programs, which are among the toughest, also now have access to content in accessible format.

Access Infinity lays a strong foundation for people with print disabilities in India to access the knowledge and information they need to live fulfilling and independent lives.

We are also seeing a growing number of publishers, including media houses, using the platform to convert their content into accessible formats. This means that people with print disabilities can now access selected daily newspapers at the same time as sighted readers.

In developing the platform, TCS and DFI and its partners have also developed various peripheral technologies to support the needs of end users and make them as independent as possible. As a result, we are now seeing more users with print disabilities consuming more content and pursuing educational opportunities.

Access Infinity lays a strong foundation for people with print disabilities in India to access the knowledge and information they need to live fulfilling and independent lives.

Within three years, at TCS and DFI, our aim is to attract a billion users to the platform and to make a million titles available in accessible format. Access Infinity puts these ambitious goals well within reach.

“We have changed mindsets and built a culture of accessible publishing, which is now a priority in India,” says, Charudatta Jadhav, in applauding TCS’ collaboration with the Daisy Forum of India (Photo: Courtesy of Charudatta Jadhav)

What role did the Daisy Forum of India play in the venture?

DFI has played a pivotal role in developing and successfully deploying the Access Infinity platform in India. DFI was a key partner because they bring together more than 200 stakeholders, including schools, non-governmental organizations who produce accessible content, libraries, publishers, universities, as well as the National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Visual Disabilities (NIEPVD), which is part of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. In partnership with DFI and the NIEPVD, TCS has been able to reshape digital publishing in India and improve the quality of life of millions of people with print disabilities.

I applaud the vision and commitment of Dipendra Manocha, President of DFI, and his tireless work in ensuring the availability of educational content, which is so critically important in transforming the lives of people with print disabilities. 

The positive changes we see today flow from this inspiring collaboration, as well as the passion and commitment of all who have worked so hard to make this transformation possible.

Together, we have changed mindsets and built a culture of accessible publishing, which is now a priority in India. Access Infinity is the backbone of this transformation, making it possible for people with print disabilities to get content as easily as sighted users.

What role does intellectual property play in developing Access Infinity?

Access Infinity is the product of innovative ideas, comprehensive research, and technology development, including extensive use of AI technologies, undertaken by TCS. As such, we have filed multiple patents to protect these intellectual assets, primarily because their application is not limited to the Access Infinity platform. These technologies are also embedded in our other commercial solutions.

In patenting these technologies, we were not driven by commercial interest, but rather our resolve to put TCS in a position to make meaningful social impact. By extending digital services embedded with these technologies to our global customers, we also ensure their content is accessible. In other words, regardless of the digital services they provide, or the sectors in which they operate, when they use our solutions, they too can serve persons with print disabilities.

What next for Access Infinity?

TCS is in the process of integrating the Access Infinity with the ABC’s global platform to ensure it benefits users with print disabilities in more than 50 developing countries. This will make seamless cross border access (without human intervention) a reality in these countries, while making it possible to overcome any technological challenges that may arise.

Our collaboration with the ABC will enable us to take care of present-day challenges and remain relevant to future needs.

New and more powerful technologies are coming on stream every day, so it is important that we take advantage of the opportunities they create as we prepare for the future.

Our collaboration with the ABC will enable us to take care of present-day challenges and remain relevant to future needs. It will also enable us to deliver positive, long-term benefits to the lives of people with print disabilities across all continents.

What does it mean to you personally to have been part of this project?

Professionally, I am very proud to have played a key role in creating this platform. And as a person with print disabilities, I also benefit from the platform. I have faced many ups and downs in my life, but thanks to technology, I have been able to gain new skills, minimize the challenges I face and live completely independently.

Digital technologies have transformed my life. They have enabled me to build my career and to do the work I do today. That’s why developing them has become my life’s mission. I feel a great responsibility to keep making a difference to the lives of other people with print disabilities.

Access Infinity is one of several initiatives I am working on to help transform the accessible publishing landscape. I am very fortunate that TCS has given me the opportunity to work in this field, which is my passion. Access Infinity has enabled me to use my life experience and expertise to help others access the knowledge and information they need to live an independent life. It is very close to my heart.

Dr. Charu on his personal journey

I lost my sight when I was 13 years old. I was sitting in the classroom and suddenly dark spots appeared in my eyes and I was unable to see the blackboard. The doctors subsequently told me my retina had detached completely in my left eye. I still had limited vision in my right eye. That was in 1980 and there was no remedy.

Having lost his sight at a young age, chess gave Charudatta Jadhav the self-confidence to believe he could make something of his life. (Photo: Courtesy of Charudatta Jadhav)

By the late 80s I lost my eyesight completely. I thought my life was over. I couldn’t see how as a blind person I could live an independent life. Even my parents thought my blindness would stop me from do anything with my life.

After a lot of introspection, I decided I need to pursue my education, which I did, thanks to the help of my friends. But the real turning point came in 1985, when I discovered chess.

Chess is a game where a blind person can compete on a par with sighted players, without any special treatment. I spent hours learning the game and soon began defeating my sighted friends. I also did well in various district tournaments and then went on to compete in international competitions. This gave me the self-belief and confidence to dare to dream that I could do something with my life. Then, in the late 80s and early 90s, during India’s big computer boom, I discovered computing.

To cut a long story short, I studied software programming and have never looked back. I left a comfortable job in a bank and joined a small IT company where I soon became a project leader. Then I moved to TCS, which gave me the opportunity to compete with the best brains in the world, explore new ideas and research very complex tasks. My current CTO, Ananth Krishnan, has played a very important role in shaping my career. The very complex and challenging assignments he has sent my way have enabled me to grow and succeed.

Technology has played a critical role in my life. That’s why I want to ensure it has the same impact for others. It has been tough, and I have faced many challenges. I never thought that I would reach this stage. But with honesty, hard work and supportive friends and colleagues I have been able to succeed.

I strongly believe that nothing is impossible when you believe in yourself, especially when you look at problems as opportunities.

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