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Blind officers in Karnataka struggle to read files as govt disregards key proposal (Advocacy) 4.3.20

For visually challenged people who struggle for decades to get reservations in government jobs, inclusion at the workplace remains a far cry as the state government has neglected recommendations to provide OCR software.  

Deploying OCR software, which would have enabled 1,300 visually challenged employees working at various government departments to function on a par with sighted peers, was a key recommendation made by a committee ten years ago.

About 600 of those employees work in classes A, B and C that involve reading documents. Without the simple and powerful technology, they depend on others to read printed files.  In 2010, an expert committee set up by the Department of Kannada and Culture made a set of recommendations, including providing OCR software that could recognise more than one language on a scanned page and convert them into text, which the screen-reader software could read for the visually challenged. 
 The   committee, headed by K Chidananda Gowda, further said the OCR interface should recognise handwriting, typewriting and scrawls in the old documents. The department’s then-director Manu Baligar lamented that the recommendation that ensures the inclusion of people with vision challenges had been overlooked. “The government must implement it immediately,” he said.  Over the last three years, the implementation of the e-office for the processing of all the government files has added a new dimension to the problems of the employees. Earlier, the documents were in physical form. Now, the inward departments scan the pages and upload them for further process, making it inaccessible for the visually impaired officers. "We have to make  a decision on putting up the file and make any notings, if required. Getting an assistant to read the file is not only cumbersome but delays the whole process," an official said. 
A senior officer said the unavailability of the technology had put an artificial curb on the employees’ ability to work independently.  “Besides the letters and documents, I am required to send out memorandums and crucial documentation on a regular basis. The lack of an OCR interface makes me completely dependent on an assistant when it comes to drafting anything in Kannada. Though the technology has been available for 15 years, the government has overlooked it,” the officer said.  Visually challenged Siddesha K was recruited as a first division assistant in 2012. “I was good at drafting letters both in English and Kannada. In fact, my typing in both languages was faster than others,” he said. 
“But I didn’t get any work in the initial year. After seniors retired, I got work more out of necessity.  I was frustrated to depend on an assistant to read Kannada and we called ourselves the country’s IT hub.” 
Siddesha eventually quit the job to become a lecturer.