Choki Wangmo

For the visually impaired, Braille and audiobook have been the chief sources of reading materials. While there are a few Dzongkha Braille books, Dzongkha audiobooks are few and far between.

With the coming of Read for the Blind (RFB), and application to create audiobooks for the blind, this is going to change. Thailand Association of the Blind has given the app’s user right to Bhutan. Loden Foundation is developing Dzongkha contents for the app.

The app is expected to be operational by June and will be managed by Selwa, an organisation that supports and complements programmes for people with disabilities.

Program Manager of Loden Foundation, Samten Yeshi, said that many visually impaired complained that there weren’t enough Dzongkha Braille books. PDF documents in Dzongkha are inaccessible due to lack of text to speech conversion component.

“The visually impaired are a minority in the country and their challenges are often overlooked,” Samten Yeshi said. The project, he said, was inclusive and gave access to knowledge through audiobooks.

One of the main aims of the project is to promote Dzongkha and English books by Bhutanese writers.

How does the app work?

The app will ask one to identify either as a volunteer or a blind person. A volunteer can record documents such as books, articles, and journals and upload them on the app. The administrator will then make the recordings available to the visually impaired.

The visually impaired can also ask for a particular book that he or she wants to read. It will then be recorded and uploaded on the app.

The best recording will be filtered by the rating system—the most listened to contents will be rated at the top. The users will determine the quality of the recorded document.

A volunteer reader, Dechen Peldon, has so far recorded seven Dzongkha books. She said that it was an exciting project.

“I volunteered as soon as I heard about RFB. In college, we had problem accessing Dzongkha resources. Most of the visually impaired are young. If they have easy access to learning materials, it will encourage them to read,” she said.

She plans to continue recording Dzongkha contents.

In the future, through RFB, an audio library would be created in Muenselling Institute for the visually impaired in Khaling.

“There are plans to develop school curriculum contents on the app, easing the learning process for students,” Samten Yeshi said.

There are three volunteer readers registered—one for Dzongkha and two for English.

The contents and app catergories were reviewed by Dzongkha Development Commission, education ministry and the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan.

Bhutan Foundation is funding the content development activities.