ICT facilities are far from their reach due to the prerequisites of literacy to use computers. Although the interest in telecentres is increasing, new technology needs to be developed to include the rural population as users of the centres.
In the mid 1990s various knowledge sharing networks were set up to share knowledge among the poorer people of developing countries. All these systems, whether paper based or computer based, demanded the ability to read and write, and yet levels of literacy were often around 50% so that more than half the population was unable to participate except through an intermediary.
One important response has been literacy programs, but illiteracy is remarkably persistent, being coupled to poverty. Governments of the developing world are unable to provide adequate number of schools in rural regions forcing probable students to travel long distances to reach schools. The ethnic diversity in regions like South Asia also means that governments find it difficult to provide primary education in native languages.
On the Sambad project we aim to support illiterate people directly, as part of this move towards this new multimodal literacy. We believe if support could be given for the non literate people through appropriate interfaces, they can take the benefits of telecentres.
The normal interfaces to computers, such as Microsoft Windows and other leading systems, are relatively complex, with their metaphors of file paths, menus and command lines. This complexity has worried us, since illiterate people would also be less familiar with complex technologies, and may even never have used a telephone.
We are undertaking a series of usability trials to explore our technical options. What kind of interaction do illiterate people feel most comfortable with? We have already assessed basic interaction devices