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To Infinity and Beyond

TCS Access Infinity has made millions of publications accessible to people with print disabilities.

 

TCS Access Infinity has made millions of publications accessible to people with print disabilities.

With millions of digital titles published across the world each year, there’s no time like the present for bookworms. Unfortunately, less than 5% of this content is available in accessible formats.

What this means is that most persons with disability (PwDs), especially those suffering from print disabilities, have very limited access to printed material. This could range from a TV installation guide or online food menu to a physics text book or college admission booklet.

For PwDs, everything from education and job prospects to health and wellness are impacted. Aware that inaccessible content not just shuts out a large section of society, but is also discriminatory, TCS Research and Innovation unit’s Accessibility Center of Excellence (CoE) team decided to drive further efforts in digital publishing.

Exponential Change

A visionary initiative by the Research and Innovation unit, the Accessibility CoE was designed to serve as a site for inclusive ICT-led development. The CoE decided to automate the challenging online content conversion process through two platforms – the TCS Accessibility Content Publisher (TACP) and TCS Access Infinity – and create an ecosystem that provides easy access to the converted content.

TACP enables one-click conversion of text in the .txt, .doc, .rtf, .html, and .xml formats to accessible formats such as Braille (.brf), DAISY (text, audio, or text and audio synchronized), and EPUB3. Tapping into TACP’s power, the CoE team came up with TCS Access Infinity – a platform that functions as an EPUB3 reader, converter, and accessibility tester. Access Infinity has helped create a country-wide ecosystem for accessible digital publishing.  

This ecosystem was formally launched in August 2016 under the name Sugamya Pustakalaya (translation: Accessible Library) by the DAISY Forum of India (DFI) and the Government of India. Today, Sugamya Pustakalaya bears content in nearly 17 languages, with more than 50 libraries feeding into the system. With more than 200,000 pages of university study material and 450,000 titles in total, this database is a key resource for everyone. 

Turning Point

Over the past decade, DFI has been working with more than 150 partner organizations to painstakingly convert individual pieces of content into audiobooks and other accessible formats. Publishers have been a little reluctant to take up this challenge due to piracy and security concerns, along with the time and effort investment required.

But in the absence of a central repository, content was being converted in isolation, leading to duplication and wastage of already limited resources. Access Infinity brought all these stakeholders together by creating a country-wide ecosystem for accessible printed content. Facilitating instant conversion through automation, it created a single national catalog for accessible books, with a list displaying books that were mid-conversion.

This meant that more content could be produced with minimal duplication, pushing up adoption rates. The converted content is available through phone and web downloads, DAISY tablets, and through CDs, DVDs, or USBs, covering both urban and rural users. DFI, the government, and other partner organizations help out with distribution.    

This synchronized operation encouraged large publishers to sign up, which meant that on day 1, nearly 235,000 books were available on Sugamya Pustakalaya. Today, that number has crossed 400,000, with an AI-driven audio watermarking feature addressing piracy-related concerns. Access Infinity was also integrated into the Accessible Book Consortium, a UN initiative to enable cross-border exchange of information.

Thanks to the real-time conversion capabilities of the Access Infinity platform, DFI was also able to provide LIVE access to newspapers and magazines through Sugamya Pustakalaya, instead of after the usual week-long delay. Today, seven newspapers and eight magazines are available on the platform in real time, along with textbooks from 13 state boards and three universities – a well-rounded print experience.