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IT researcher helps illiterates learn e-tech

CNN-IBN
Oct 28, 2010 at 03:41pm IST

Bangalore: An Information Technology researcher, who has introduced those who cannot read or write to the digital world.

CNN-IBN's Young Indian Leader awards is a special initiative to honour the young who have chartered their own destiny and proved the power of youth.

She can't speak Kannada and the women with her like Mariamma can't read or write but the language barrier hasn't stopped Indrani Medhi, a post graduate from Illinois in the United States to try and take the computer to the masses. Her mission in life to deliver the benefits of the e-technology, she has mastered to the billions who are illiterate.

“I think for this target population, there's this sort of trepidation that's caused by one's social standing. They live in very low technology environments and do not get exposed to computing technology on a very regular basis. So the moment they see an expensive device, they sort of get intimidated and break the device. So just helping them get rid of their fears and getting them to use the computers was quite challenging,” said Associate Researcher in Microsoft Research India Indrani Medhi.

But the real challenge was to design an interface that would make it possible for those who cannot read or write to understand the use of a computer. That's why Indrani designed user interfaces in the computer which are text free. For instance, a job search would be through an audio visual graphic interface which takes the user step by step from simulating the door bell to asking for a salary.

“Somebody, who has no previous experience of computing, somebody who has never seen a computer and not literate, can now use this computer with minimal or no assistance at all,” said Indrani.

In the end the idea is to help women like Lakshmi, a domestic help to use the computer for finding jobs on the net.

“We didn't know how to even switch off and switch on a computer. Only Indrani taught us how to use it for our work. We can now even use it for our daily work now,” said Lakshmi.

Women like Lakshmi are only the beginning of what could be a revolution. At the moment Indrani's experiment is still on a small scale and she's in perfecting the process through her research at the Microsoft research lab in Bangalore.

"We're often going to Indrani for advice on how we should present this so that this class of users can understand," says Researcher Microsoft Research India Bill Thies.

Indrani's research could potentially be the interface between the illiterate masses and the Information and Technolgy revolution.

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