>> MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. My apologies. It took a little bit more time to set up the technical concerns, because actually after we have the presentation through the Power Point, we're going to give you the live demonstrations on how we can bridge the gap between the digital technology with a volunteer from the blind. I'm sorry about starting late.
Anyway, a warm welcome to all delegates and IGF friends to the workshop number 29. On behalf of ETDA. ETDA is Electronic Transaction Development from Thailand, and we will, you know, introduce ourselves a little bit later on. So, as you know, according to the digital age beyond the limits, I think that most of us here think that this is a crucial time to, you know, think about how we can contribute them to benefit to others, and therefore we would like to share the knowledge and the practical experience on the topic of breaching the digital divide for the blind through technology. Let me give you a good background.
In Thailand there are almost 700 blind people ‑‑ sorry. 70,000 blind people in Thailand, approximately about 1% of the population of Thailand. So we are here to build a practical application called Read for the Blind, and that can bridge the gap between technology and the people who have difficulties and volunteer to help them to access the information and communications.
Let me introduce a little bit the Read for the Blind project. Consequently, the Read for the Blind project in Thailand becomes a successful more modality with more than 120,000 engagement of the target with difficulties in Thailand. Before we move to the presentation, let me take a little bit more time just to introduce ourselves and who we are.
ETDA is electronic transactional develop as I mentioned. It is a public organization on behalf of ministry of digital economy and society. We have the main responsibility to, you know, promote eCommerce, ETRADE facilitations for the infrastructure and like digital economy laws for cyber security. Anyway, one mission that we aim is to collaborate and to empower with the market stakeholder board the national group to raise awareness of the Internet Governance in the target group of Thailand as well.
So we have main, key topics that we would like to build in this workshop. First of all, we have two speakers in the forum today. The guest speaker we introduce you about reads for the blind project, which is a mobile application, a cloud‑based audio book, or we can call it ‑‑ it is a creation for the blind. Secondly, we will move to the introduction of Help Us Read, which is a phrase book group socially for the blind in Thailand. And then we move to the live demonstration, and then you can, enjoy, how it's functional and practical application that some would pick it up and apply into the environment in the country. At the last section, we're going to have a question and answer among, you know, friends of IGF.
Then we can bring altogether in the future corroboration for the successful development, because we don't want you to have a good talk in this room. This is how we can Read for the Blind project to another neighboring country or, you know, another IGF friend environment. Let me introduce our speakers. We'll start with the lady first.
I would like to give the floor to miss Cholatip Yimyong. She can go on and introduce yourself to your friends.
>> CHOLATIP YIMYONG: Good morning. My name is Cholatip Yimyong from national reading for the blind and disabled of Thailand association foundation.
>> MODERATOR: Our colleague, Miss Cholatip Yimyong, even has been blind since when she was young, but she's so excellent because she got a bachelor degree in consumer science and she worked for Read for the Blind in Thailand. He works as the head administrator supporting electronic contents services at the national library for the blind in Thailand.
So let's move to the gentleman, our guest speaker, I would like to introduce Mr. Natwut Amornvivat right now. Mr. Natwut is a co‑founder of Read for the Blind and helped us with the read project. He also gets the CEO at the mobile development company in Thailand.
So I think that it is the time to pass it is floor to our key speakers to contribute the functional and application technology which helps our friends. May I pass my duties to you? Thank you.
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: Thank you very much. Good morning, everyone. We'd like to go over our personal stories of our team in Thailand. We developed two systems to help the blind. The team is multi‑stakeholder. It was started PO private, and we work with NGO, for example, and work with PO private. The key stakeholders are the library for the blind and corporations.
I myself come from PO private sector, but we know that technologies can help solve the problems. The two stories we're going to talk about is one Read for the Blind mobile application, which basically is a cloud‑based audio book creation for the blind. Another one is called Help Us Read, which is the instant social help for the blind.
So if you can imagine ‑‑ if you could take a few seconds to imagine yourself as a blind person, or if you want to close your eyes, if you drop something down the table, right, it's so easy for us. We just open our eyes and try to find it. For the blind person, the books that they need to read and study, the work that they need to perform to earn money to raise their kids and even to, you know, contribute to the society, it's very difficult. They cannot see. Looking at this slide, Cholatip is a blind mother.
She has two kids, right? This Mother's Day her kids drew her a Mother's Day card and gave it to her and said, I love you. She asked, what is this picture, right? What did you draw? The young kid, she's so shy and she just ‑‑ she wouldn't explain it. How can Cholatip understand fully to appreciate it fully, what's the love that her kids give her? Today we would like to tell you that we can use social networks to help the blind to understand the situation. Our story starts about four years ago in Thailand, right?
Very few become volunteers in terms of audio book creation. Myself included. I always thought I want to record books for the blind. I never do it. I'd never done it before, because I never know where this place is. I never go to the library for the blind. It's very difficult to go, right?
One day I decided to go there, and in the room there's a few PCs. There's software that requires about one and a half hours of training, right? Once I'm done, I ask, what is the most demanded book right now? The staff gave me this civil law and said in three days a blind student needs to take the examination and no one has come to read it for her yet. Three days, this law book.
So I spent three hours that day, the remainder of the day reading. I went through just two chapters out of maybe 20 chapters, and we know that blind kid will never got this book to study before a final exam, never, right? As an engineer, we know that the most ‑‑ the easiest and the best recording devices in everybody's hand, right, is a mobile phone? If we can have an app that can record the audio book, we can do it anywhere anytime, right? A thick book like this, if they have 20 chapters, 20 friends can do one chapter each, and we could finish this book in a night. Right?
So I tell that to the library, and we spent like three months afterwards talking with the library for the blind thinking about the features. In the end we managed to engage Thailand to combine our efforts to produce an app call would Read for the Blind education. Eight months later we launched this app. This is about three years already.
The app is basic. It's basically a microphone recorder, but the key things is it cannot be a normal recorder, because you definitely make a mistake, right, when you read the book, you will misread it. You will misspell it. So the app you can scroll it, rewind it back to the point where you made a mistake, and then you just record it again, right, in the middle of it?
The second key function is that once you're done with the voice recording with the chapters, you upload it into the cloud, and the blind ‑‑ this app can be accessed by the blind using accessibility function. The blind can read ‑‑ can ‑‑ we use the word read, right? They can listen to the audio book immediately, right? So on the blind person's side, we have a specific blind person's log in, right? So they can identify themselves as the blind so that we set up ‑‑ comply with the copyright law. They lock in and scroll through the books and articles and listen to it.
Basically, it's collaboration. This technology is basically a bridge between volunteers and the blind. It's a hybrid between humans and technology in terms of helping the blind, right? We collaborate or help, instant help, and on the blind person's side, they can read books. They can comment.
We know that volunteers get high moral boosts because they get comments back from the blind to say thank you and comment. There's no number of person listening to their books. That is very important from our experience.
In this we create and engage a social system. Once we're done with this, we launched it publicly, and this is quite important. When we launch something, we need to really engage the public. We use a lot of people, celebrities, universities, students recording books for their peers to start recording. This is when we have a lot of challenge. The first one is a copyright law. All right? After we launched about three years ago, one of the biggest publishing house calls up and said they are very concerned about this. I asked them, okay, library for the blind has been doing it for the last 30 years. Why now?
I said, because it's so inconvenient, it has been very inconvenient, so there are very few books, very few volunteers. Now that we launch it in the mobile application, there will be a lot more help, and then I'm concerned. I'm totally understanding him, right? We totally understand him. We thought the app is not going to be that easy anymore, right? So we bring a lot of books down. We create this log‑in for the blind persons, and so ‑‑ but lucky for us one year afterwards a new law, copyright law in Thailand passed and it said, if you do a copy of the inaccessible content for the blind, you are exempt from copyright.
So it basically ‑‑ I think a lot of countries have that law at the moment, so I think a lot of people can do pretty much the same thing. And the app eco‑system is run by the blind foundation, which is very important as well. It has to be run by the blind foundation.
Second one, the voice quality.
People would ask if the microphone connects with USB to the PC, is it better than the voice you recorded on a mobile phone? You know, as an engineer on mobile phones, we know that the quality of the voice from mobile phones is very good because of the noise reduction. It's $100 billion industry, right? The quality of it is very good, but we can't control is once we have 120,000 volunteers recording from their home, from their workplace, we cannot control the background, right?
So we urged the blind association that give us a chance. You have very few books in the past. Let it being a high quality book, but for us, let us create a wide variety of books for the blind, articles, something the blind never got before but more like a medium range quality, right? So we pass that ‑‑ we went through that issue.
The next issue comes up because of our own system. Once it's very convenient, there are 120,000 volunteers. Number of workload of quality control at the blind library has been ‑‑ they were overwhelmed by this number of audio books. What we change is that immersion we launched last year, it became a cloud‑based system like YouTube.
When you record an audio book, the book that has been listened to most and has been rated with the most highest score comes up in the ranking, and when the blind comes in, they will only see the high‑ranking books. So it's more like a self‑scoring kind of system.
So we sort of lift some of the quality control workload out from the library itself. So three years after the launch until today we have 120,000 voice volunteers in Thailand.
The number of books before Read for the Blind was 5,000 nationwide before. After Read for the Blind we have 18,000 more books from Read for the Blind. The eco‑system of this application is very important. I need to show you this. On the top part we have the volunteers. They're reading to the cloud, and from the cloud the blind person can log in and they can extract the audio books. Not only this.
Many blind people in Thailand do not have smartphones, right? We have to treat everyone equal. In the blind foundation they would select the highest quality books from the system, bring it from one cloud to another cloud. This second cloud will serve different channels. The first one is the not typical dial in called 1414. You can listen using a land line and feature phones. Second one is TAB radio, Thailand association for the blind Internet radio and another one is application called tap to read.
Basically it's to show we need to have several channels in order for the grassroots section people as well as the people who have smartphones in order to participate in this. And the key things to make it work is that it is run by the association of the blind so that the participation from the blind is ‑‑ it can be worked out.
So basically what we have changed is, first of all, we can manage to get people to contribute an audio book from anywhere anytime. Secondly, they can collaborate.
The big, thick book, they cannot do it in one night, for example. Do we have Thai people from Scandinavia or Germany and from Australia? They have been contributing their voice to blind people in Thailand collaborating with one books. That is Read for the Blind. Another system that we want to talk about today is called Facebook group, and we hope very much if you like this idea, maybe you like to try to do it in other countries as well. We would love to help out. We would love to do it as well.
One night Cholatip sent me a JPEG file and said she can't read the picture for sure, and the picture is from the school of her kid. It's a timetable of the ‑‑ it's a study schedule. If the school were to send her a text file, she'd be able to understand it using a voice‑over function, but the school sent her a picture file. I read it for her, but I asked wouldn't it be nice if we had more than 1,000 volunteers standing by to read for her, right? She said, blind people can use Facebook very, very fluently.
Actually, in fact, she typed much better than I do, much faster than I type. So we try it. We tried immediately and we were in front of the room. As a blind person we take a photo of the sign in front of the door which says please wash hands before and after in the hospital.
Take a photo and upload it to the Help Us Read Facebook group. The volunteers in the Facebook group, they see this photo. Basically what the volunteers need to do is type a comment explaining that photo, so in this case the volunteer who said, please wash hands before and after visiting exactly this. As you post the picture, you get notification when someone comments on your post, right? So she goes in and looks at the comment and uses the voice‑over and listens to the comment so she can understand. If you're clear, we have a videotape of this. Let's see. So this video clip will show how the blind person captures the photo and puts it on Facebook.
>> Take picture. Facebook, Facebook. Notifications, one new. Nothing. Nothing. Search. Nothing.
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: You use the feature to go there with the button.
>> Photo just now selected. Nothing. Done. Say something about this photo. Say something about this photo. Cat WFGHHAFTT, space, IDS space, new line TTTHHSS, photo. Privacy. Nothing.
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: She posts it to the group. We have 8,000 volunteers 24 hours stand by. Once you post it and see it and plain it in the comment, now she gets the comment back. She's seen the notification that someone commented on her photo, and now she's going to attempt to read that comment.
>> Photo. None available. The first person. Commented. Target on working together for now. Six minutes ago, zero mics, two have commented and they're working together for now. The book has a great cover with graphics on men and women. On the cover it says in two volumes, volume 1 is the large type edition. Just now zero mics, two finger double‑tap to interact with it.
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: Basically that's how we use the social network system to help, you know, people to understand. In fact, last night I think when Cholatip ‑‑ the room was getting very cold, and she took a photo of the thermostat and asked what is the temperature now so she can change it up or down according to the current model.
It's 24 hours help in realtime, right? So right now we have 8,400 volunteers in this, and the example of the help that we did give is for example this. Timetable in school. Even if ‑‑ even at the school that allowed the blind person in Thailand to study with that peer, you know, but let's send out the timetable in JPEG. It's not accessible. So someone posted it on the group, and the group explained it. This photo, take a photo of the milk carton and ask, what is the expiration date? You go to the hospital and come back and get confused which drop is which. We don't have accessible level in Thailand.
What impressed me a lot is the lecture that blind students can study lectures that their peers lend them, right? In fact, in the bachelor degree law students they help their friends using this group, more than 8,000 volunteers. 15 years old, 15 years of old exams were finished in one month so the next generation of blind person can have material to study. But I'm an engineer, and a lot of my friends are.
Why don't we automate all this? What we learned and I never expected when we launched is this example, the emotional side of things, the artistic side. Today technologies cannot do it.
Volunteers help to explain the motivation behind a drawing. The color that the children used in the drawing. The meaning of the picture.
These kind of things make us aware that actually the hybrid system between human and connecting technology still is very available, right? It's a bridge we need to use, but we cannot ignore the human side of things, and this, I think, it makes ‑‑ it solves one key thing. We don't just solve the inaccessible content issues but the awareness. Once people get to give, they start to become aware of what they can do, right? I want to leave you with some video.
(Speaking in Thai)
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: So in the end we learned that we engage the public in terms of making this help or campaign successful is also we actually create a tool not just to help the blind, but we help volunteers. You know, everyone to have the tools to give, and that is what we found is very important and the technology is the bridge between ‑‑ it's the bridge, and it's very inclusive. It combines the blind and everyone into one society, and that basically is what we learned, how to make this campaign work for us. Okay? So that is the ‑‑ what we want to say, and we're very open to ideas, discussions, different settings in different countries, and I apologize we don't have a live demo, but we do have some video in the presentation already. Thank you very much.
>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much for the presentation, I'm from Myanmar, your neighbor. We are also doing some ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities in Myanmar. We are studying to do that as well, and I wanted to ask, it's the app and also the idea of the eco‑system is very interesting. I wanted to ask about the app, and is it the reading, are they according to the DAIS standards and about the phone, 1414, is it a toll‑free number?
(Speaking in non-English language)
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: I will translate. Basically the status is when we record the app it was a typical voice. Whether we export we convert it to daisy. On the 1414 it's POS on that from the beginning. This is very important for us as well.
>> MODERATOR: We have some more information and comments because we would like to encourage your participation in this forum, then we can learn and chat. We have a friend. Welcome. Can you share the situation in your country, please? Thank you.
>> AUDIENCE: I'm from Bhutan. It was a wonderful presentation. This is a key for those that are blind. I wanted to know if this app is only available in Thailand, or is it also available for others to use as well? Also, similarly I was also thinking while I was listening to the presentation, if also such developers or engineers are actually thinking about something of this similar app for the deaf people like, you know, they would allow the sign languages, and I was wondering if it could be a similar challenge for them as well to study. Is there any, you know, possibilities of, you know, thinking such innovative ideas and also bringing in for the deaf as well. Thank you.
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: Thank you very much for the question. Basically the two questions, the first one is, is the app available outside of Thailand? The we could ‑‑ the second one is helping the deaf people. The app side is basically available worldwide, but it wouldn't work. It has to work as a whole eco‑system. Once the app is ‑‑ once people record an audio book on the app, it basically goes straight to the cloud, which is still okay, right? It's virtual.
The QC of the voice quality is being done in the library for the blind. So it goes straight to Thailand, right?
The quality is done there and held there. The lock in from the blind person's side is the specific issue by the Thailand association of the blind to control the copyright. So this is how the system has to work, you know, holistically, but as you ask, we would love to make it work anywhere. It's more like a multiple countries, it's not like a worldwide thing, right?
If any country wants to replicate it, it can be done and it just needs a center and passionate corner who is doing it. It may be the library for the blind in that country, but it can be done. For now it is domestic.
The second thing, yeah, I think you made me think about Facebook again. People can listen ‑‑ I mean, volunteers can help listen to things and type it as a text, and social media is wonderful for that. We can also do it.
When we start to Help Us Read, we have two persons. One is the Cholatip and the other is myself. I sent it to my friends, 200 people. She sent it to blind person friends, 200 people, and it spread. So why not? Let's see if it works for the deaf people as well or maybe the blind people in your country, because I think more should be maybe one language per platform would be easier for everyone. I would love to see this used as well. Thank you.
(Speaking in non-English language)
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: And there's some that can translate sound into text, right? Right.
>> MODERATOR: Let me go back to the Bhutanese friend a little more. We're more than happy to work with you more closely with these new applications to your country, because one of those you are the journalist from the media industry, and the other guy from Bhutan has come from ICT ministry of ICT, right? Yeah. We can help some more in the future on how to help each other set up a capacity building and try to build more public education on what these technologies will benefit to the community. In the future we can work more together. Thank you.
>> AUDIENCE: Hello. I'm Jerry Ellis from Dublin, Ireland. I found your demonstrations and apps very interesting. The second after you showed to one based in America called be my eyes where somebody takes a picture or a video and sends it off to a volunteer that describes it. It might be worth your while linking in with be my eyes and maybe help each other to standardize it or improve it so that you learn from each other.
The other thing that I thought might be of interest was if you have volunteers reading books, some are very good and some are very bad. Some maybe don't understand they have to turn off the air‑conditioning because it interferes with the sound. So I'm wondering, do you have a set of rules or regulations or recommendations that you give to readers to ensure that the standards of the books are as high a quality as they can be? Thank you.
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: Thank you very much. Excellent point. The quality is a big, big topic and big points. We do it through ‑‑ apart from the apps, we have the Facebook page of the Read for the Blind where people can engage, and in that Facebook page we have a video clip of the instructions or tips, and basically talking about this, you know, how to record the best voice quality as possible.
We also do an engagement and do like a group‑based kind of training as well. We do it for corporations, big corporations. They want to do a CSR projects based on Read for the Blind. We go there and teach them how to do it, particularly on the quality of their voice. We have voice trainers going with us as well, and this will help the volunteers not just for Read for the Blind but in their professional life as well, right?
How to pronounce words correctly, things like that. So yes, we try to do that as much as possible. It's not ‑‑ it's far from perfect. In the end there will always be some low quality books or articles created, but, you know, you sort of ‑‑ you try to manage it. Yes.
(Speaking in non-English language)
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: Okay. Cholatip pointed out an important part we did. When we start off with someone totally new to the system, we system them to record articles first. We have two areas in the apps. One is an article, which is like one chapter and done, right, and another one is the book with multiple chapters. We ask them to do just articles because it's precise and short and done.
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: The key thing is the app is just one alternative ways to record. There's still traditional PC‑based, high‑quality studio recording that's available. Very, very important point you point out. Yes.
>> AUDIENCE: Hello. So my name is Hamid. I'm from Jordan and know English and Thai. This is the point when we launched this, the first question coming in in Australia and she has a kid studying and speaking English and we do this in English books in the system right now. But still, right now is purely based on Thai settings so the book can be English, can be any language, but as the previous question, the eco‑system is run purely based on Thailand settings. We can replicate it, but in order for it to work, it has to be done not just the apps but the organizational aspect of this. Is that correct? Did I answer it correctly? Okay. Thank you.
>> AUDIENCE: Will be accessible for people to use it? Is it easy for people of other languages to use the app?
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: If we want to reap indicate in other countries we have to revamp it and change the menu and stuff. It shouldn't require a lot of time. We would love to work together on that.
>> AUDIENCE: Great. Thank you.
>> MODERATOR: The next question is coming from ‑‑ the question from colleagues from Australia.
>> AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. My question is a nontechnical one. You mentioned ‑‑ you introduced the electronic transaction unit of the ministry, and I was just wondering how the government is involved in this project supporting that.
>> MODERATOR: I have built some perception on my side on behalf of the government agency under the ministry of digital economy and society. Right now it's in the Thai government has the policy to move forward driving the digital economy to the society in Thailand. One of the important things is all about the Internet Governance, and you know, promote the accessibility for the friends, for the disability is one under the Internet Governance.
On in the role of the government agency, we have the aim and mission to drive the good job, the corroboration with the private sector, and you know, public sector like our friend from the Read for the Blind project just to support, promote enhancing the project to, you know, other communities in a practical way.
Anyway here there is a representative from ETDA. He's here in this forum. He represents EDTA, and he also works as a multi‑stakeholder adviser at the IGF as well. Could you pass this question to him and you might have some idea how the Thai government can support this kind of, you know, useful contribution. Thank you.
>> SPEAKER: Yes. The speaker had been mentioned about the keywords of hybrids from what we're looking at, I think, that two major separate issues here we're talking. I think the IT part we have no worries on the interoperabilities event. It doesn't matter, you need to find a stakeholder in another country who works. What we're looking at here in terms of IT is that how could we expand it and become a community based driven that they can do even at the regional level for them to sustain, so if two or three more countries collaborate together, then I think government will be easier for this discussion and get their support from the government.
They already are self‑funded today, but from ETDA's perspective, we're looking at how we could create the cross‑country implementation especially a lot of people share the same language, English, Chinese, and how all this is shared together that is the most important thing in IT. Secondly, I think what we're looking at as a unique in this is this is the first time we hear the technologies that link between the people and technologies to support. So especially with maybe because our groups of language we call complex grammar structures is hoping to use the machine translation.
Google is giving up. They don't do the translation in Thai anymore, and I think it's the same for CLMB and the other countries around in Cambodia, Burma. The only way is how to bring the network of the good people or good Samaritan people that like to do good things every day easy access, and that's what we're looking at, and that's why we bring them here.
We sponsor the trips and think that they can expand this. I think the network of the people is very important.
The last point I'd like to mention is this technology is not only for the blind. If you look into the future, what it can do is even help the tourism getting lost. There's a whole network of people that stand by to help, so how we utilize that, it can use that for the patient that cannot read and stay in the bed. I think I heard a lot of stories about religious books that they can listen. So the technology itself after it's expanded is not limited to the accessibilities, only limited to the blind.
That is how the government sees that we like to see the calibrations in this, and we're picking up this project because it has been presented in local IGF in Thailand, and next year we host the Asia‑Pacific IGF. We do believe that we try to create some more concrete action that we could collaborate together among countries and then see who will be participating in the core system.
I have to admit the fact that the accessibility is overlooked in several aspects, in several areas. I try to bring this issue in. Thank you.
>> NATWUT AMORNVIVAT: To follow‑up on your point, we really love to work with other countries. If you find this kind of framework or system interesting, I mean, our ‑‑ if we see it happen in other countries as well, we will be very, very happy. We will be very supportive. We'll be very supportive to that. Okay.
>> MODERATOR: The time is gone now. Last but not least, let me thank you to all that attended this forum. We're looking forward to, you know, working more closely with our IGF friends to continue this kind of, you know, technology, digital technology that brings the relations between volunteers and the blind people, and you know, if you have some more questions, please feel free, you know, to keep in touch through the e‑mail.
Our key speaker, Mr. Natwut leaves the e‑mail address as a focal point contact. Looking forward to welcome IGF friends to Thailand in the next year coming, and we are sure that we will have the good corroboration in the near future. Thank you for your participation. Good luck.
(Session ended at 11:45 CT)