ArmeniaNow.com - Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
July 16, 2004


Sound for Sight: Armenian computer program opens doors for blind


Recently Hayk Papikyan has developed a passion for his computer, scanner and a program called “AREV” and is eager to show off the way by which the combination of the three are making his life more enjoyable.

“Look here,” he says carefully grouping the keys. “I am scanning the page of the book, then launch AREV and that’s it. It reads for me.” And even scanning the book is method made simple by AREV.

Hayk Papikyan and his tools for "seeing".

AREV is a recently developed, unprecedented computer system in Armenian language for the blind. The brainchild of scientists of the Yerevan Computer Research and Development Institute (YCRDI), the program allows the blind to use Armenian websites, communicate via e-mail or listen to books or other information.

Hayk, age 22, is one of 18 who completed AREV lessons organized by the YCRDI. He lost his sight when he was 14, after complications with influenza. Despite the unexpected problems, he strongly decided to continue his education.

Hayk moved from the ninth grade of his school to a Yerevan boarding school for blind children, where he learned the Braille system. Upon finishing school he successfully passed three university exams and now he is at the second course of the history faculty at Yerevan State University.

Hayk writes down the lessons in a Braille notebook or records them on tape recorder.

But apart from learning those lessons he needs to become familiar with more extensive literature, including the classics and professional literature. His mother has been helping him, by reading literature and university books for him.

But since completing a course in how use AREV last week he has pinned great hopes on the AREV program’s use in helping him finish his degree

“The AREV system tremendously helps me with my university homework,” he says. “I don’t need my mother to read books or lectures as I scan them and hear a reading. Besides, I can type the essays and then hear what I wrote and edit it.”

Arman Kuchukyan, creator of AREV and the Technical Director of the YCRDI says that it took two and a half years for his group to develope the program. Kuchukyan says he does not diminish the value of Braille system. He says it has been a perfect aide, but it now outdated.

“Only few books are available in Braille in Armenian or in Russia. It is unfair that blind people were deprived of an opportunity of reading other books. The systems like AREV are available in West for a long time, and I am happy that we managed to make the similar program for Armenians,” he says.

Kuchukyan, 73, has worked at the YCRDI for 51 years and says that AREV is one of the institute’s best achievements. He is inspired by AREV, but is unsure about its future.

“We organized the computer lessons for the blind people free of charge and gave AREV programs also free of charge to those few who had computers at home. What about those who do not have computers? They will forget soon what they learned,” he says.

Kuchukyan applied to the Parliament asking to assist in providing computers the school graduators.

Kuchukyan says a lot of Armenians can benefit from the program.

“Annually there are about 20-25 graduates of the boarding school for blind children,” he says. “So many people can help those young ones by giving them computers which were in use. Imagine, how the life of a young person will change if he gets a computer, so many opportunities will be available for them.”

But Kuchukyan’s good intentions were not favorably met by government.

We did not get a single dram from the government for this program,” Kuchukyan says. “Eight people worked hard on the program to install about 10,000 Armenian sounds into the program. AREV is not perfect and we need sponsorship to continue our research on its improvement, but all our efforts will be in vain if people for whom we develop the program will not have chance to take advantage on it for the simple reason of a lack of computers.”

The All Armenian Fund "Hayastan" has allocated six computers to the boarding school for the blind children N 14 and AREV program was installed in those and other computers there.

“About three years ago scientists from the YCRDI came to our school and asked if children need the program which will read the Armenian fonts,” says Alexan Aharonyan, the director of the school. “Of course we said ‘yes, we need it urgently’, because the government does not sponsor the production of the Braille books, and each time when we want to issue the book we apply to the Armenian Society for blind people. Besides Braille books have a short life and it is hard to read when it is not new.”

Currently there are 120 students studying at the school from grades 1-11. It is the only school of its kind in Armenia, except for the school for the children with poor eyesight. In all there are 4,000 blind people in Armenia and most of them are involved in production of electronic houseware.

Hayk Papikyan who completed massage courses at the boarding school says that before entering university he tried to find a job of a masseur, but he could not find any vacancy.

The education that the blind people get at the school is not enough to find a job,” he says. “For others it is hard to continue education at the university. I hope that AREV will open many doors for many people who will have a chance to get education by correspondence, to meet in chat rooms, to get letters by e-mail and read them without anyone’s help. In other words to escape the limits we have by getting more privacy and self-dependency.”


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