According to a study published online by the Lancet Global Health Journal, in 2015, there were around 8.8 million people across the world who were visually impaired and approximately 47.7 million people who suffered moderate and severe visual impairment.
For those of us blessed with sight, being on the same page as the visually impaired is very difficult. While braille, the tactile writing system, is of great help, at the same time, it is challenging for a sighted teacher, parent or friend, to teach a non-sighted child to read.
Well, Inklude, a Delhi-based social initiative is all set to bridge the gap between sighted and non-sighted people, by providing a unique method of learning for the latter.
“Children with visual impairment are separated from the mainstream, because there are no books or games, that they can use together with their sighted peers”, says Puneet Arora, the co-founder of Inklude, a brand owned by Chanakya Mudrak Pvt. Ltd based in Delhi. He further explains that non-sighted children need a better learning mechanism, than what they currently have, to learn better.
So, what is the middle ground, and how has Inklude managed to achieve it?
Normal braille, which appears like punched dots on a piece of paper, is quite linear and is unable to convey things like texture, shapes, etc. making it unsuitable for a sighted person to interact with or teach a non-sighted person.
Inklude’s books are integrated with a special embossing technique, which does not disturb the readability of a sighted person, and at the same time, can be used by a visually-impaired person, who can trace the tactile braille using their fingers.
Puneet highlights this with an example.
In a particular storybook developed by Inklude, there are multiple characters. Each character has been given a different texture of hair, and whenever these characters appeared, non-sighted children could figure them out by touch. What’s more, the storybook could be read by a sighted person too, since it wasn’t just only braille, but actual text as well. While sighted children found the storybook interesting because of the different colourful characters in the story, the non-sighted children’s interest was ignited thanks to different textures.
“The inspiration to do this came from one of my family members, who had gone to a school for the blind in Delhi, to teach visually impaired students. He had come back disappointed, because, he couldn’t understand braille and hence couldn’t make the kids read”, says Puneet, who took his relative’s obstacle, as a challenge.
He then decided to formulate a way in which sighted people could comfortably teach the non-sighted, without requiring the knowledge of braille.
Thus began a period of extensive research and development in the field, and over the last five years, Inklude has worked on some landmark projects. One of them is the development of NCERT’s inclusive children’s exemplar books, audio-braille accessible menus, tactile alphabet books and many more such inclusive and unique products.
“We aim to be truly inclusive and want to create innovative publication ideas”, says Puneet.
Moving steadily in the direction chosen, Inklude wants to encourage and empower the visually challenged population of our country and the world, and help them lead a life of dignity and productivity. Laying special emphasis on education and skill development, the initiative aims to send every visually challenged child, into a mainstream school.
Another interesting Inklude product is the non-sighted version of the popular board game Snakes and Ladders.
Puneet explains that the concept of the game is similar to the original one, and the only difference is that the snakes and ladders are embossed, and the dice also happens to be tactile. The tokens are magnetic, so they don’t fall off the board. Thus you have a classic board game, that can be played by both sighted and non-sighted people, at the same time. What’s more, the game is portable and can be carried in a box.
Interestingly, during the development of the concept for Inklude, Puneet sought the advice of Dr Sam Taraporevala, who is the Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and an advocate for integrating the non-sighted into the mainstream. Dr Taraporevala was thrilled to use Inklude’s products and excited at the prospect of introducing them to other non-sighted and sighted people.
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The concept, by Delhi-based Inklude, of integrating embossed print for the non-sighted, with words and pictures in a book that even a sighted person can read, is new in India. The spirit of inclusiveness, is perhaps what is needed for the non-sighted to develop the confidence to step out in the world!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)