Monday, January 11, 2010

Bookshare in Chennai

A guest Beneblog by Viji Dilip
International Bookshare Program Manager

Every morning braving the heavy Chennai traffic Maria wheels into Worth Trust to start her work as a proof reader. Maria was raised by the sisters of the local Chennai Church, given a basic education and was sent off to Worth Trust to learn life skills. Two years later, Maria who was affected by polio at the age of one and has to use a wheel chair and calipers, is now soon to be married on Jan 18th, 2010. The proud bride to be is full of smiles and happy that the Worth Trust- Bookshare partnership has given a new meaning to her life, she is full of confidence ready to face the world. She says, “This job has greatly increased my self-esteem. I now feel even I can help people living in America!!”

Thanks to a generous grant from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, Bookshare has been able to work with Worth Trust, a nonprofit with offices in Chennai, India. The project's goals were to work with organizations that provide opportunities for people with disabilities and digitize a million pages of books to be added to the Bookshare collection. The partner we chose, Worth Trust employs people with disabilities, in addition they conduct life skills classes and provide training. Manufacturers of mobility aids like wheel chairs and Perkins Braillers (the leading braille typewriter in the world), Worth Trust’s main office is located in Katpadi, a few hours away from Chennai.

From manufacturing wheel chairs to digitizing books was a huge change but the employees at Worth Trust were up for the challenge. We started of with a few validators and proof readers, a scanner, a computer and a handful of eager learners. For the employees English is not their first language and for some it was not the medium of instruction. However that did not stop them from trying, learning and working hard. After several days of training in Chennai and through Skype with me in California and the Worth Trust team in Chennai they started off with 30 books a month. Today two years later they digitize about 150,000 pages a month and have far surpassed their goal of a million pages. They now work with higher level books with charts, graphs and equations and can turn around books for us in 24 hours if necessary.

Every employee on this project has a story to tell, some have moved on to get other jobs, like Vikas who is now a consultant at Tata Consultancy Services after having worked in the Bookshare-Worth Trust project. Vikas, who became blind at ten is a PhD in English but had never ventured far from home. Working on this project, utilizing his knowledge of English to proof read he was soon able to gain self confidence and is now residing a few hours from his home town, independently and exploring the world through the internet. Sheila on the other hand is a woman who is deaf and nonspeaking and could not find work that utilized her undergraduate degree. The Worth Trust-Bookshare project provided her with an opportunity where she could work hard and learn a lot. She is off next month on maternity leave but is certain that she’ll be back as soon as she can.

In addition this project alone has enabled us to add more than 6000 high quality books to our collection making our Bookshare members very happy.

Thanks to the Worth Trust team and to Lavelle in supporting these efforts!

1 comment:

James Nuttall said...

This is very exciting news. As a person with mulitple disablities, I know how hard it can be to obtain work and have an independent life. I'm please that Bookshare is helping others to succeed. Jim N.