“In India, one out of 1,000 children is visually impaired, and yet, our innovation in the area of accessibility is not as developed as it should be,” a 28-year-old innovator observes. Her remark does not come in isolation.
In 2017, the National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) stated that India alone had 12 million blind individuals out of the global total of 39 million, making the country home to one-third of the world’s blind population.
Despite the numbers, the access to education is not as robust as it should be, and this IIT Bombay duo embarked on a journey to make it a reality.
“For many visually-challenged individuals, comprehending image-based concepts like the water cycle, or even the relative distance between two cities or states becomes very difficult. Even if they have access to alternative methods of education like tactile graphics, they continue to be dependent on another person to help them through it. We wanted to eliminate this dependency and bridge the gap of access,” Chandni Rajendran tells The Better India.
Chandni is the co-founder of ‘Tactopus’, a venture which creates innovative application-based education material assisted by an interactive audio companion, for children with disabilities.
Along with her batch mate and friend, Saloni Mehta, Chandni began Tactopus in April 2018. The pair have already impacted hundreds of lives through various schools and independent organisations.
Designers from IIT Bombay, the two discovered their calling as postgraduate students. “We both wanted to work in the area of social development and design, and the opportunity arrived when I got to intern at Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged. It was this experience that opened me to reality and pushed me to think beyond the existing technology,” says Chandni.
Check out Tactopus’ range of inclusive books and cards on The Better India Shop
She adds, “As sighted people, we often take a lot of information for granted. For instance, all the visually-triggered or learnt information like colour, distance, diagrams. So we were shocked to realise that even well-educated visually-challenged adults would not have a clear idea of maps. While this can be corrected by tactile graphics, we wanted to go a step higher than that.”
Incubated at Social Alpha, an initiative by Tata Trusts, the Bengaluru-based company creates interactive tactile graphics and tangible learning solutions through an array of books and cards, emphasising concepts like geography, numbers, and rhymes.
“Our research went on for two years before we launched. From understanding the behavioural patterns of these children to inculcating all the aspects catering to their abilities and strengths, the project was made to be inclusive and engaging. These books and cards have multi-sensory imprints and are paired with an interactive audio companion on their mobiles, which guide the students in real-time to understand every word, image or sentence they touch,” explains Saloni.
Created mainly for children between the ages of three to seven years, their product range includes:
- ‘My Counting Book and Cards’, an interactive activity book of numbers which facilitates interactive and independent learning with instant feedback;
- ‘What Makes You Special’, which introduces them to the animal world through multi-sensory learning;
- and ‘Children’s Nursery Rhymes’ which has a deck of 8 cards each of which sings a different nursery rhyme when scanned with the app.
Although designed to cater to the needs of children with a vision loss, she adds that they could be beneficial to children with learning difficulties and other developmental delays.
“Our upcoming geography books which will be ready in the next three months are helpful even for adults with vision loss,” she says.
Chandni concludes, “We don’t want our products to flourish only in a niche market but become mainstream. With a blend of technology, design and social sensitivity, our work hopes to be one of the many beginnings for an accessible future. And the change has already begun. Although it has just been a year, and we have started selling these only recently, we have managed to get a pre-order of 60 such pieces as a pilot from the government of Maharashtra.”
We extend our full support to their social venture, hoping for a more inclusive and accessible tomorrow.
Check out Tactopus’ range of inclusive books and cards on The Better India Shop.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)