New, cheaper gadgets for the visually impaired
Monday, 07 February 2011, 05:37 Hrs
New Delhi: Even as technology has made it possible for the blind to use the internet, to click photos using special cameras and to undertake activities that are effortless for the sighted, innovators are now seeking to aid them further with new and cheaper gadgets. Currently, the visually impaired are able to read and browse through various web pages on the internet one line at a time. Paul D Souza, a Karnataka-based engineer has created a multiline refreshable display that gives a visually impaired person instant access to the computer revolution. "My device is like a monitor for the blind where they can read by feeling the Braille dots on its surface. The dots created by raising or lowering small pins simulate the bumps of an embossed page and the text changes as the online page refreshes itself," Souza told PTI. He says such devices are currently being used in countries in the West but at costs that are very prohibitive in India. "Technology has not changed for the last 30 years. People continue to use the single-line display device which costs as much as $3,000. I have tried to create a five line 20 characters per line display at a cost of $500. It's also the first device in 14 years to meet NLS Braille specifications," he says. The engineer, who is a college dropout, aims to bring down the price further to $200 which is much cheaper than the existing models. While over 15 million people in India fall into the category of the visually impaired, Souza says he wants to promote literacy among the blind. "While there are many say that Braille is unnecessary when there are computers which can read out text aloud, I think it will make these people illiterate." Souza is a finalist shortlisted for the Third Social Innovation honours given by the Nasscom Foundation. The honours are a bid to recognise innovation in the use of information and communication technology for social development. Like Souza, two undergraduate students from Meerut have developed a "blind helper" - a 7 key keyboard to help the visually challenged operate not only a computer but also other electrical appliances in their house using "smart-home extension cables". "It is difficult for a blind person to operate a normal keyboard with 104 keys. Blind-helper is a Braille free technology that operates with the help of e-vision software using dot net technology," says Mohit Khanna, who has teamed up with a fellow student at the Bharat Institute of Technology. The device has 5 navigation keys and the remaining two keys are a substitute for the escape and enter keys in a normal keyboard, he says. "As the system does not require Braille, so even a Braille Illiterate blind person can also use it. Also, the same system with some minor modifications can become useful even for paralytic people, or those with Parkinsons and even Alzheimer's diseases," says Khanna. Another student team from the VES Institute of Technology in Mumbai has designed the project "Explore", which aims to enable the differently abled to educate themselves and discover the virtual world of the computer. "Our solution helps visually impaired to educate themselves through talking textbooks, connect to social networking sites like Facebook etc and thus collaborate with the world. The software assimilates Braille keys on the keyboard and output is provided through speech thereby reducing the need for costly hardware," says Samiran Saha, who is leading the student team. Saha says his team's innovation will be useful for government organisations to demographically track the literacy level of the differently abled as well as assist NGOs and child welfare organisations to suitably channelise their activities and collaborate. Khanna and Saha figure in the 21 finalists from across India who have been shortlisted for the Genpact Nasscom Social innovation awards. Apart from individuals, several organistions that have created solutions to aid the visually impaired have also been shortlisted for the award which will be announced on February 8. Mumbai-based Beyond Sight foundation has created a unique project that enables blind people to click pictures. It conducts workshops that encourages the blind to use their senses of hearing touch , various visual memories, the warmth of light to create a mental image before they take a picture. The Camera Mouse project from Vision Aid offers a small camera-based device that helps people suffering from long- sightedness to read and write. The camera magnifies the script and displays the magnified view on the user's television.