People with vision disabilities seek an improved eSpeak
Asia-Pacific, February 16 2017
KANNUR, INDIA: eSpeak text-to-speech (TTS) software is one that works well for people with vision disabilities speaking many Indian languages, including Malayalam. Those who now largely prefer it to its other variants for Malayalam speeches feel that the State government should intervene to improve this light-weight and open source system that functions on Linux, Windows, and Android platforms.
TTS software is used by the visually challenged to read digital content on computers and smart phones. The most popular is the software recently developed by Jonathan Duddington. Apart from English, the software has around 60 languages. eSpeak enables the visually impaired to read online books, journals and newspapers. eSpeak, however, is not without limitations when applied to Malayalam.
“As this software is developed by an Englishman, the Malayalam speech, like many other non-English speeches of this software, has many shortcomings in terms of pronunciation and tone,” said P.C. Thahir, Associate Professor of English at the Government College of Engineering, Kannur.
Instead of developing local variants of the Malayalam TTS software, eSpeak TTS has to be improved, he said, adding that several non-English speeches of this software have been improved as a result of the positive interference of computer programmers of the languages concerned.
The Kerala Federation of the Blind (KFB) wants the State government to release funds for hiring services of computer programmers to make Malayalam speech of eSpeak more intelligible.
“eSpeak is a wonderful TTS engine because of its size, which is less than 2 MB, and its ease of use,” said K. Sathyaseelan, teacher at the Government School for the Blind, Kasaragod, who is also State committee member of the KFB. Mr. Sathyaseelan, who is also blind, said he had communicated with Mr. Duddington on the deficiencies in pronunciation of Malayalam speech. Mr. Duddington, he said, had responded that only native programmers well-versed in Malayalam phonics system could correct it.
The KFB functionaries say that if eSpeak engine is improved, people with vision disabilities will be able to read any book written in Malayalam since they will have access to the e-copy of the same. It will also help visually impaired students read textbooks written in Malayalam independently by providing them with e-versions. It is a governmental responsibility as per the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, they add.
The Kerala Federation of the Blind is seeking govt. funds for hiring computer programmers to make Malayalam speech of eSpeak more intelligible.