Vision in their eyes

Published: 24 November, 2013 13:11 IST | Punam Chavan |

Tania Jain, a graphic designer, has designed a toolset called Fittle for visually-impaired children, which gives them an opportunity to learn new words and visualise the object by touching them

Helen Keller is a source of inspiration for all the visually challenged. But very few people know that Keller’s teacher Anne Sullivan taught her the first letter ‘doll’ by spelling it on her hands which frustrated her at first. Reason? Keller did not understand that every object had a word uniquely defining it. While Keller succeeded in finding her answers with the help of her teacher there may be many visually impaired children going through similar problems.

Fittle is a toolset which has Braille embossed on blocks. When fixed together, they take the shape and silhouette of the object

Tania Jain, a graphic designer and a student from the National Institute of Design (NID), has designed a unique toolset, Fittle, that has words embossed in braille on different blocks. What’s so different about it then? These blocks when put together mimic the shape and silhouette of the object, thus helping the children visualise the word.

Fittle has partnered with Yahoo! Japan’s project, Hands On Search, which enables children to get a 3D imprint of the object with the help of 3D printers

“I had attended a workshop called Design In You (DIY) - Engineering the eye conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at the BITS Pillani Campus in Hyderabad in July this year. The workshop aimed at inspiring young graphic designers to come up with solutions that could help the blind to overcome their day -today tasks.

Dr Anthony Vipin Das has started a campaign on the social networking sites to raise funds

An interactive session with the visually impaired was a turning point in my life. I interacted with a man named Venkatesh. I was moved when he told me that he grew up asking his friends and family members to describe the object for him which he was curious knowing about as touch was the only sense that he relied upon to feel the object. It was then that I decided to do something for the visually challenged,” says Jain.

Debanshu Bhoumik plans to integrate sound technology in the toolset for blind children to hear 

While Jain initiated this project, there are a few more people who have joined her team for this noble cause. The designer and her team comprising Dr Anthony Vipin Das, an eye surgeon based in Hyderabad and Dibanshu Bhoumik, a student at NID, are planning to introduce sound interaction for this project. Bhoumik, explains, “We are trying to integrate this project with electronic sound interaction. Consider the example of a ‘cat’. Kids will learn how to spell a ‘cat’, try to visualise what it looks like by organising the blocks and also hear what it sounds like through our integrated sound interaction technology.”

Tania Jain wants visually-impaired children to visualise the object while learning new words

“We wanted to keep Fittle as an open source that could be accessible to all. Hence we did not patent it. Our aim is to bring maximum people together and use design and technology to enhance this toolset so that it can reach even remote places. To source funds for this project, we started a campaign on Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding platform and created awareness about our project.

People across the world came forward and donated generously and we collected $3,000 which helped us kickstart our project,” explains Dr Das, who is also a senior TED fellow. Team Fittle has finished working on eight words such as fish, cat, dog, bat and aim to complete the 26 words by March 2014 so that it can be introduced in the primary school curriculum for the visually impaired children.

Help bring smiles
Jain tells us that Braille has a specific dictionary for each language. The Fittle toolkit in is English Braille but their aim is to make this initiative global by providing this toolset in several other languages. You can also contribute monetarily for this cause. “The toolkit can be created in Hindi easily, but we need help from foreign linguists for the global project. We have collaborated with Asha de Vos, a blue whale biologist who is helping us to come up with our Ocean Fittle series. We are also in talks with a Spanish eye surgeon who has shown interest in developing Fittle for the children in Spanish,” explains Jain.

Finding new horizons
Fittle has introduced this concept in Akropong School for the Blind in Ghana and are trying to make a 3D printer set for them. They have also collaborated with Yahoo! Japan’s project called Hands On Search by providing them part of 3D data to provide an opportunity of visual perception to the visually impaired kids. Hands On Search has installed their special stations across blind schools in Japan. A child has to search in for a word through voice input whereby he gets a 3D printed model of the object.

“We plan to give the first 100 toolkits free to blind schools across India. We are also open to working with more young engineers to expand our initiative and make it bigger. We are blessed with vision but visually-challenged kids just have the sense of touch. The least we can do is enhance the imagination power of these children through the sense of touch,” concludes Jain.

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