Can technology help the blind?

In 2006, TechBridgeWorld was introduced to a school for the blind just outside of Bangalore, India. The Mathru School for the Blind (Mathru School) was founded in 2001 by Gubbi R. Muktha, a woman passionate about educating and rehabilitating children with disabilities. The Mathru School started in a cottage in Ms. Muktha’s backyard with only one blind child and one blind teacher. The school has grown by one standard every year and now has a dedicated building, 10 standards, and over 100 students.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, two robotics PhD students enrolled in an independent study program offered by TechBridgeWorld called V-Unit. The program encourages students to pursue non-traditional research. They were especially interested in learning how they could use their skills to make a difference. Given that over 90% of the world’s blind and visually impaired population live in developing countries (Source 1) and the fact that the literacy rate of this population is estimated to be very low (Source 2), the students focused on assistive education. Together with the Mathru School, TechBridgeWorld and the two students embarked on a compassionate engineering journey.

StudentWithBrailleSlate
A blind student at the Mathru School for the Blind writes braille using a slate and stylus. Source: Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind

TechBridgeWorld worked closely with the Mathru School to learn about their needs and challenges. Since TechBridgeWorld and the students were based in the United States, a personal contact who lived in Bangalore visited the Mathru School to videotape classes and how students learned. Through these videos and conversations with Ms. Muktha, they learned that in developing communities, braille is almost always written with a slate and stylus. For visually impaired students in these communities, learning to write braille in this manner can be a formidable process as they:

  1. Must learn mirror images of the letters
  2. May not have the individual guidance they need
  3. Experience delayed feedback
  4. Must use limited or expensive paper supplies

Given this information, how do you think technology can help?

Source 1: World Health Organization | Visual impairment and blindness

Source 2: E. Helander, Prejudice and dignity: an introduction to community-based rehabilitation. New York: UNDP, 1998

 

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