New software gives the blind access to the Internet in Laos

Economy May 22, 2016 01:00

By Souknilundon Southivongnorath

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The Lao government has teamed up with international organisations to help blind people in Laos gain easier access to information and communication technology through new software.



The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications partnered with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Thailand’s National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) to develop the Lao Text to Speech Synthetic Software.

It is intended for use by visually impaired people to enable them to use computers to search for information on the Internet, use Microsoft Office and other applications.

At the launch ceremony in Vientiane yesterday it was acknowledged that technology is a path to life so countries around the world are developing software that meets the needs of people with disabilities.

The Text to Speech software has been developed in several languages but was not previously available in Laos. So the ministry and the Lao Association for the Blind teamed up with the ITU and NECTC to convert the software into Lao, funded by US$40,000 provided by the US Embassy to Laos and the ITU.

The software enables blind people to hear spoken Lao on a personal computer. It will read every line on the screen whenever the mouse passes over it. One blind man at the National Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane said the new software was a huge improvement because by listening he and others would be able to know where they were on the computer.

“For example, we can drag the mouse to each icon and it will tell us what it is. It’s like having a person with eyes standing beside me to tell what’s there.” When a blind person types on Microsoft Office or an Internet browser the system will tell them what letter of the alphabet they are typing. This is something new for Laos even though many other countries already use the software on computers and mobile devices.

The director-general of the ministry’s E-Government Centre, Phonpasit Phissamay, said that while there are not many blind people in Laos they should be given the opportunity to work alongside ordinary people.

“It may be difficult for them to learn how to use the software but most will persevere. So we, as government officials in cooperation with international bodies, wanted to provide this software for them,” he added.

Phonpasith said research into the system began in Laos in 2008 when the E-Government Centre sent an engineer, Chitaphone Chansirilath, to work at the NECTEC in Thailand.

She wrote down her ideas and sent a sample of the system to the centre but the voice-over was too different to be recognisable and her participation discontinued as officials were concerned that no one would be able to use it.

In 2014, the Centre again discussed the matter with the Lao Association for the Blind. It was recognised that most blind people could use such a system so they decided to have another go at rewriting the software.

“We are now working on converting Lao Text to Speech for use on Android systems to make it easier for blind people to use mobile phones,” Phonpasith said.

Today, some visually impaired people have mobile phones that use Thai Text to Speech software while some also use Voice Search to find applications on their phone.

A blind man attending the launch ceremony said he had used Lao Text to Speech on his computer and found it very convenient.

He and his friends are now waiting for it to be compatible with the Android system so they can enjoy using their mobile phones.