Challenges for people with visual impairments
During a volunteer visit to a visually impaired couple, Digital Impact Square (DISQ) innovators Bonny Dave, Abhishek Baghel, and Akshita Sachdeva experienced first-hand the accessibility challenges that people with print disabilities face. Unable to read the details on medicine packaging, the couple had ended up feeding their infant expired gripe water. They realized the error only when a neighbor found the child covered in a rash.
Digging deeper into such accessibility challenges, the group understood that there was a need to make printed, handwritten, and digital content accessible in real time.
Accessibility at the core
Visually impaired persons generally miss out on education and employment opportunities due to the lack of content they can access on their own. They massively rely on Braille and audiobooks, but very less content has been available, thus far, in both the aforementioned formats.
The team then tapped into the DISQ network for resources and mentorship to co-create efficient solutions. To address the challenge of content inaccessibility for the blind, the team set-up an assistive technology company called Trestle Labs, under which an Android application called Kibo was developed to help people access content on-the-go.
Kibo, the Japanese term for ‘hope’ and an acronym for ‘knowledge in a box’, empowers blind and visually impaired persons, and is a step toward inclusive education and employment for the community.
The app, using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies, offers audio-based access to printed, handwritten, and digital documents in 12 file formats, in addition to a repository of one million accessible books to search, download, and listen to.
While the app also offers a capture-to-read feature, visually impaired individuals could find it difficult to capture photographs using their phone. Similarly, extensive research of educational and work-related documents also may be strenuous on the app.
In order to cater to such scenarios, Trestle Labs, conceptualised and incubated at DISQ, also created a physical multilingual scanning and reading device with the same name— Kibo XS—that enables people to listen, translate, and digitize hard copies of printed and handwritten documents, across 60 global languages, including 12 Indian languages, in real-time.
Going the extra mile
The challenges the visually impaired community faces can go beyond education and employment; the pandemic being one such example. The latest and unexpected global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, has only led to mounting of problems.
To tackle online education and work-from-home arrangements, the team built a Kibo Desk, a web-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform. It uses AI and ML to deliver high-speed and high-accuracy text-extraction via optical character recognition, translation, and conversion to audio for any kind of printed, handwritten, and digital documents. It also allows the community to listen, translate, and digitize inaccessible images and scanned image-based PDFs, which have become a common format for information exchange.
Launched in July 2019, Kibo XS device is now available across seven countries including India, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Singapore, the US, and the UK.
The Kibo mobile application, launched at the same time, is now empowering more than 45,000 visually impaired individuals, across 15 countries. They have been able to access upward of 22 million pages worth of inaccessible content, having spent over 40 million minutes of reading and learning time on the app.
The recently launched Kibo Desk is helping schools, colleges, universities, and libraries embrace inclusion and produce accessible content.
Going forward, the DISQ team hopes to partner with international organizations to scale their impact worldwide.