LISN Revolution – Breaking dawn for inclusive innovations in Sri Lanka

Saturday, 12 November 2016 01:39 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The significance of having a vision for life, a vision for the nation and the vision for the whole world is often discussed these days. But how many of us have ever bothered to think of life without vision in a literal sense?

Among the many hardships with which over 800,000 persons with visual impairments in Sri Lanka according to the statistics published through a research conducted by the Ministry of Health, are grappling on a daily basis, being unable to read the printed contents and books in particular remains a burgeoning and yet unresolved issue.  

Enable Lanka Foundation, an organisation committed to mainstreaming disability inclusion, has teamed up with a 08-01group of innovative entrepreneurs led by Shanaka Mendis who founded LISN, a small mobile application with a bigger change in mind, with the view to breaking the greater portion of this barrier.  

Shanaka, an avid reader and a great fan of audio books, has found it a very enriching experience to listen to books while attending to other daily chores and while travelling rather than dedicating separate slots of time to read books.

At this time and age when interactive electronic media channels and social networks have invaded our leisure time and while everyone’s schedules are packed with various commitments and work obligations, the habit of reading books for knowledge and leisure is indeed viewed by the majority as an alien endeavour.

It was on seeing the opportunity of providing Sri Lankan print contents for those who don’t have much time to read books that Shanaka came up with the concept of creating audio versions of popular Sri Lankan works of fiction and literature, and making them available via a mobile application for those who are in need.

It was at this time Shanaka has got the chance to connect with Janitha, the Co-founder of Enable Lanka Foundation who had wanted to address the issue: the unavailability of reading materials for visually-impaired undergraduates and graduates in Sri Lanka which he faced himself during his undergraduate days.

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“At the time I was reading for my BA and B.SC., there were times I felt really frustrated on being unable to access the extra reading materials easily like other students of my batch did. Particularly in the case of subjects I took up in Sinhala and even in certain courses like Sri Lankan English Literature I took up in English, this unavailability of access to resources severely hampered my performance at exams. In all my life so far, I haven’t felt so helpless, powerless and actually disabled like I felt during such times of utter bitter disillusionment when I didn’t have access to knowledge like others did. So I view this unavailability of accessible resources as one of the key aspects of inequality. So when I got to hear about LISN, I was thrilled beyond limits. When Shanaka approached me through a friend and mentioned to me that he would like to collaborate with Enable Lanka Foundation, the small but fast-growing network of young professionals that I co-founded, The words fail to describe how extremely ecstatic I felt,” said Janitha Rukmal, the co-founder of Enable Lanka Foundation.

Enable Lanka Foundation is a growing network of young professionals who are doing their utmost best to create a sustainable impact by mainstreaming disability inclusion.

“I enjoy the difference of listening to books rather than reading them like we all usually do. Once when I visited the school for the Blind in Ratmalana I realized that audio books can actually create a much greater impact as well as an empowering change in the lives of those children if somebody would create an accessible and affordable method for them to access such books. So I shared this idea with my friend Buddi who’s partnering with me in creating and launching this app. We decided to reach out to someone who could help us make our LISN app more accessible and through our friend Keshan, we found Janitha and the amazing team at Enable Lanka,” said Shanaka, the innovative man behind this great endeavour.

This partnership has been able to expand the boundaries of community empowerment that Enable Lanka foundation has been engaging in. The foundation that originally was initiated way back in 2013 as a small organisation approached its threshold in the year 2015 through the proactive involvement in taking charge of the social media component of the nation-wide campaign titled ‘Enabled Elections’ mobilised by a coalition of civil society organisations and numerous disability rights activists with the auspices of Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, leading up to the Parliamentary general election in 2015.

The Co-founders were able to approach various influential individuals in Sri Lankan politics including President Maithripala Sirisena himself in order to sensitise regarding the equal rights of persons with disabilities to actively participate in politics both in the capacity of voters and electors.  


“The LISN Revolution is different in many ways from the policy level advocacy initiatives we’ve been so far involved with. I feel that the disability inclusion we are striving to mainstream is practically engrained within this initiative. For instance, LISN is an app that even I, as someone who wants to read but has no time in life for it, could put to good use though I’m not a person with disabilities. It is a useful app that’s providing the most wanted access to books for the persons with visual impairments and learning disabilities,” said Krystle Reid, an incredibly enthusiastic young lady who is also a Co-founder of Enable Lanka Foundation.  

“The advancement of new technology and progressive ideas which steer the technology towards inclusive application could make a massive change in empowering people and making our society more disability-inclusive. So we see a promising future prospects with assistive technologies that’s in store for us all,” said the cool quadruplet consisting of Januka, Rukshan, Sandeeptha and Buddi, as four other young professionals who have been studying together at the University of Moratuwa and have joined the voyage of enabling with Enable Lanka Foundation.

As the organisers of this initiative, everyone at Enable Lanka is grateful for the immense support they have been receiving from American Center Colombo, Samsung Sri Lanka, Impulse Inc., Rotaractors of the Arts faculty of University of Colombo and Rotaractors at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura as they gear up for the two launch events of this application to be held on 19 November at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and on 26 November at the University of Colombo.

With the backing of all these partner organisations, Enable Lanka Foundation is ready to make history yet again by distributing 100 smartphones and introducing the LISN mobile application for university undergraduates and graduates with and without visual impairments alike in view to recognising and activating true inclusion.

Further details can be obtained by calling Krystle 077 257 8989 or Januka on 071 843 7029 or by emailing [email protected].