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TBI Blogs: These Schoolkids Created a Sensory Wall Storybook for Their Visually Impaired Friends

One of India’s first sensory walls for the visually impaired has been created at the Orissa Association for the Blind through a collaboration between schoolkids from Orissa and Bristol. The project won an award in the ‘Quickest Impact’ category at the ‘I CAN Awards 2014’ organised by Design for Change.

Students at SAI International School in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa were troubled that their visually impaired friends only had access to two-dimensional mediums – Braille story books or magazines – to experience stories. They were friends with visually impaired students from the Orissa Association for the Blind (OAB) – home to over 700 visually impaired students, staff, and teachers – for many years, on occasion providing them with Braille Slates and walking canes.

They wanted to help bring the magical art of storytelling alive for their friends by stimulating more of their senses using sound and touch. Mehak Dhawan, a Class XI student, and 12 of her friends collaborated with 11 students of the Winterbourne International Academy from Bristol, UK, to build a Sensory Wall Storybook at the OAB, based on the timeless tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

This was not the students’ first idea, however, as they had initially thought of creating an audio library and recording stories using old Walkmans and tape recorders. After months of Skype conversations between Bhubaneshwar and Bristol, the students collectively realised that recording and translating so many stories would be an overwhelming task. Instead, they decided to choose one story, and research on how to make it into a 3D sensory wall storybook.

Many places around the world use sensory walls to help stimulate the senses of visually impaired children and adults, through creation of play spaces and activity centres. The concept is almost non-existent in India, however, said the students. “Making a sensory wall to tell a story was just the challenge we could sink our teeth into,” they added. The students innovatively added the element of a linear story to bring the concept of a sensory wall further alive.

They divided the wall into three scenes, and split the work between themselves. One group employed their hands and minds to create the three-dimensional art that would go up on the wall. Another group prepared the wall by measuring and painting it. The third group worked on translating the story of Goldilocks from English to Odiya, and voice-recorded the translated story. Small speaker boxes on the wall recounted the story. The wall took up to four days to create.

The final wall captured a 3D journey using sound that stimulated the senses of all who used it.

Students prepare the Sensory Wall Storybook.

The project cheered the visually impaired students and staff at the Orissa Association for the Blind School (OABS), Bhubaneswar. It actively employed the framework of Design for Change – created by a not-for-profit organisation that challenges children to solve problems in their community – that encourages children to first ‘feel’ for an issue, then ‘imagine’ a way out of it, then ‘do’ something about it, and go on to ‘share’ their idea with more people. The students’ mentor, Jessica Patnaik, introduced this way of thinking to her students.

The completed Fairytale Wall.
Visually impaired people from the OAB interact with the Sensory Wall Storybook.

You can watch how the Sensory Wall Storybook came alive here:

The story won in the ‘Quickest Impact’ category, from amongst 1,992 stories at Design for Change’s ‘I CAN Awards 2014’. According to Odisha News Insight, SAI International School has since then received the International School Award 2014-17, given by the British Council, for its active partnership with schools across the globe in working together on meaningful projects that address global issues.

Be a part of one of the largest global movements of children driving change in their communities. Take up the ‘I CAN School Challenge’ in your classroom. Find out more online, or reach out to Design For Change on +91-95999-16181.

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Written by Niharika Sanyal

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Niharika Sanyal is a forager of meaning, architect by training, writer by instinct, and coffee-addict by habit.