The Malta Independent 13 November 2019, Wednesday

New Maltese e-passport to convert text into speech for the visually impaired

Friday, 8 November 2019, 18:12 Last update: about 5 days ago

Addressing a stakeholders' meeting for persons who have a visual impairment, Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli held that the blind and visually impaired persons will now be able to make independent use of their e-passport.

Malta will be amongst the first in the EU to offer such a service. Portugal was the first EU member state to have created a Braille version of their e-passport (PEP).

Instead of opting for a Braille version of the Maltese e-passport, the blind and visually impaired will have a Speech Code, in the form of a QR code sticker, affixed to their current or new e-passport on request and at no charge. The user will scan the sticker using the Speech Code mobile phone application which will convert the individual's name, date of birth, passport number and expiry date from text to speech. The mobile phone application, which can be downloaded for free from either the Apple Store or Google Play, will indicate the user where to place the phone's camera to capture the QR code.

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On his part, Parliamentary Secretary Anthony Agius Decelis held that the passport initiative is another step taken by the government to continue breaking down barriers to social inclusion more holistically. Anthony Agius Decelis mentioned the various initiatives taken to further promote social inclusion, which includes books printed in large fonts, the setting up of a fund for inclusive feasts in our towns and villages, and the scooters project for persons with disability to improve accessibility and comfort within our communities. Parliamentary Secretary Agius Decelis said that the government is focused on improving the quality of life of every individual. He said that this project launched by Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli is another form of proof that this government is determined to improve people's lives.

The idea to facilitate the use of the Maltese passport for the visually impaired was first discussed in a similar meeting held last year to commemorate World Sight Day, and over the past months, Identity Malta has worked closely with representatives of the blind and visually impaired community, in particular with the Foundation for ICT Accessibility, to develop this new feature.

Identity Malta chose the Speech Code over the Braille solution since not all visually impaired persons, especially those who lose their sight because of age, accident or illness, know how to read Braille and the Agency preferred to use the technology that the users are accustomed to simplifying matters.  

Parliamentary Secretary Farrugia Portelli commended Identity Malta Agency for honouring its commitment towards making its services more accessible since this new feature will give the blind and visually impaired a greater sense of autonomy when making their travel arrangements or travelling abroad.

Identity Malta Agency CEO Anton Sevasta, held that as from next week the blind and visually impaired may personally submit a request through the Passport Office to have this Speech Code feature affixed to their existing or new e-passport, which Identity Malta will be issuing in the days to come. Existing e-passports will remain valid and fit for travel until their expiry date, and this Speech Code is compatible with both old and new passport versions. Mr Sevasta also reiterated Identity Malta's commitment to further facilitate people's lives using technology.  

During the meeting, the stakeholders had the opportunity to test out this new feature and applauded Identity Malta Agency for its efforts.

The meeting was attended by the National Commission for Persons with Disability, Foundation for ICT Accessibility (FITA), Malta Society of the Blind and Torball.


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