Friday, October 22, 2010

Bookshare International’s Viji Dilip Profiled in Magazine

The staff I work with at Benetech are committed to the communities that we serve with our technology. Among the people I’m privileged to call a colleague here at Benetech is Viji Dilip, the International Program Coordinator for our Bookshare International service.

Washington Square Magazine, which is published by Viji’s alma matter San Jose State University, included a profile of Viji in their most recent issue. Entitled The Gift of Insight, the story recounts Viji’s personal journey and how it inspired her to work with members of our Bookshare service who have print disabilities that make it difficult for them to read traditional text.

Viji, who is from India, received a BA in accounting from Madras University and moved with her husband to the Bay Area. After receiving an MBA and CPA from San Jose State in 1995, and working for Hewlett-Packard and several tech startups, Viji received an unexpected diagnosis from her doctor. She was told that a brain tumor was pressing on her optic nerve and may cause her to become blind. After undergoing surgery, Viji emerged with her eyesight intact – and strong desire to reshape her career.

"I said to myself what if?” Viji told the magazine. “After that close brush with blindness, I decided I didn’t want to do anything more with accounting. I wanted to give back to society, to help people who didn’t have vision with their education so that they could become economically and socially independent."

After her surgery, Viji left her job at the startup company Net6 and volunteered for Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic in Palo Alto, California. In 2005, she started volunteering for Bookshare, which is also based here at the Benetech headquarters in Palo Alto. Since Viji was raised in India, she began looking at the educational challenges faced by people from that country. She found that India was 20 to 30 years behind the United States in providing assistive technology for the blind. I heard we had a high powered finance executive volunteering on book scanning, and decided to meet her and learn more.

Even as a volunteer, Viji began bugging me about the need to expand Bookshare’s collection of accessible books and magazines to readers around the world. When we received a grant from the Bernard Newcomb Foundation in 2007 to take Bookshare international, I asked Viji to become Bookshare’s International Program Coordinator.

Vjii now works with organizations in Canada and the United Kingdom as well as in India, where Bookshare employs four people to scan and upload books. In countries outside the U.S., getting permission to scan and upload books in accessible formats can be a slow and complicated process.

"In underdeveloped countries, the biggest problem we face is that copyright issues have not been addressed by government in the local area," Viji told the magazine. "We get around those issues by talking to publishers on a one-on-one basis and gaining their permission."

As the magazine story notes, 15 Indian publishers have now agreed to make their books available to Bookshare. Other Indian publishers and authors are also coming forward to offer their titles. Viji has set up partnerships with several noted publishers including Seasons Publishing, based in Chennai, India and Sahitya Akademy which publishes award-winning titles in 15 local languages. In her quest to Bookshare International, Viji also collaborates with other international organizations including the International Council for the Education of the Visually Impaired and Sight Savers.

Bookshare International now offers texts in English, French, German and Spanish. Viji and the Bookshare engineering team expect to add Hindi and Tamil language books by the end of this year and other non-European languages soon thereafter. Viji explained to the magazine that these additions will "make a huge difference in places like India where a huge portion of the population uses the local languages to continue their education."

I’m proud to work with people like Viji who brings her personal commitment to service with her to work each day. As social entrepreneurs, we apply our hearts and our heads to create technology that serves all humanity.

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