Imagine sitting in a science or a geography class and being told to visualise everything that the teacher speaks, without any visual representations.
Seems impossible, right?
This is the plight of visually-impaired individuals every passing day. And one IIT-Delhi alumnus is on a mission to change that.
27-year-old Ankita Gulati has developed a digital inclusion device which allows the visually-impaired to access diagrams and pictorial content. Christened TouchVision, this device reads the content in the picture when a visually-impaired person touches it.
In an interview with the Indian Express, the Delhi Technological University (DTU) graduate, explains the mechanism, saying, “A foldable stand is used to position a smartphone camera for scanning tactile material, and pointer ring on user’s index finger is used to read the text. The smartphone, through an app, provides simultaneous audio to the user as per index finger’s location. Label and description of the diagrams are narrated based on different finger gestures performed by the user.”
How did this device come about?
After completing her BTech and MTech in computer science from DTU, Ankita chose to write her master’s thesis on assistive technology. She sought guidance from IIT-Delhi deputy director, Balakrishnan, a known academician, who has mentored different assistive technology ventures.
The idea of developing TouchVision though came to Ankita while she was on a school visit for her project.
“During a geography class at a special school in Noida, the educator was trying to teach about Indian states using a single handmade, tactile map for 25 students. The map was being rotated among students, and the teacher was giving a verbal description. Clearly, students were not able to understand and comprehend,” she says.
During her research, she saw how STEM subjects were inaccessible for the visually-impaired.
She adds that students are not encouraged to study mathematics and science beyond class 8. This is mostly due to the unavailability of the content.
“Even in other subjects, diagrams are omitted out of the books. Visually-challenged students are unable to access the entire curriculum even in inclusive schools. This limits their employment, education and developmental opportunities,” she laments.
This inaccessibility pushed Ankita not only to pursue it for her thesis but also convert it into a full-fledged venture.
She moved on to take a course in entrepreneurship from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and another in entrepreneurship and management from IIT-Delhi to further her knowledge.
Having topped both courses as a gold medallist, she received a seed grant of Rs 25 lakh from IIM-Ahmedabad, whereas her alma mater IIT-Delhi, proposed to incubate her idea.
It’s been three years since she has begun developing the idea. She was also presented with a national award.
After four prototypes, the final version (and fifth prototype) was developed in July 2017. All versions were tested by visually-impaired students for six to eight months. Their feedback was used to revise the prototype at every stage.
While the national award did help in creating awareness about a device like this, Ankita maintains that the challenge continues to be convincing visually-impaired individuals.
One of the developments was her collaboration with Saksham Trust and NCERT to make books truly accessible. She adds how the kits and books will be distributed among individuals across institutions in all states listed under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
“The aim is to impact one million lives in the next five years,” she concludes.
Let’s hope Ankita’s vision helps make education truly accessible in the coming years!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)