South Africa’s first locally manufactured computer for the Blind is now commercially available. The device, known as the SAnote, computer for the Blind, was originally conceptualised in 2003 by the CSIR in partnership with a representative group of Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs) and the Office on the Status of Disabled Persons (OSDP) in the Presidency, as part of the National Accessibility Programme (NAP).

The research and development initiative was supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the previous Department of Communications. Over the years, various organisations and individuals in the Blind community have contributed to the development of the SAnote through testing, advice, and piloting.

Aligning with the NAP vision, the SAnote is aimed at addressing the marginalisation of persons with disabilities from the mainstream economy and society, through the use of information and communication technology (ICT).

 At the time of conceptualisation, no local computing device existed that allowed a person who is blind, for example, to capture notes during lectures, recall them later, edit the notes and share them as needed. Availability of a locally manufactured device would have significant implications for blind and partially-sighted students and business people who are otherwise disadvantaged to learn, and/or participate in the country’s economy.

As an indigenous technology, the SAnote focuses on value benefits, including support for multiple official languages (such as Sepedi, Setswana, isiXhosa and isiZulu); portability; extended battery-life; and enhanced audio functionality.

The CSIR’s text-to-speech (TTS) technology, Qfrency TTS, received top honours in the ICT for Accessibility category at the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services' inaugural ICT Achievers Awards, which were held in Sandton on 27 October 2016. The technology shared first place with Robobeast’s 3D Prosthetics.

The ICT Achievers Awards is a platform dedicated to recognising outstanding leadership, vision, inspiration and innovation in individuals and companies that are active in the ICT sector. In the ICT for Accessibility category, nominations were sought for an organisation that has developed an ICT product or service that empowers persons with disabilities.

Meanwhile the CSIR’s text-to-speech (TTS) technology, Qfrency TTS, received top honours in the ICT for Accessibility category at the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services' inaugural ICT Achievers Awards, last month. The Qfrency TTS which converts text into synthesised speech in all official South African languages and can be used on standard desktop computers, laptops, tablets or mobile phones. The technology has been developed over several years and was recently trialled in a project aimed at rapidly providing newspaper and magazine content to subscribers of the South African Library for the Blind. It is currently being piloted at selected Cape Access eCentres, where it has been bundled with the open source non-visual desktop access screen reader to enable print-disabled users to access information on the Internet.

It is also available on a CSIR-developed portable computer for the blind, the SAnote, to synthesise documents into natural sounding speech for playback.

Further information on the specifications and configuration of the SAnote, are available at www.sanote.co.za.

The SAnote will be distributed by the South African National Council for the Blind, which can be contacted on 012 452 3811.