Here Come Handy Devices For The Disabled
Last week, in the centre of a crammed Goregaon office, a skull served as a soft toy. People patted its blue head on the way to their desks and returned its toothy smile. Despite having two holes for eyes, no cheeks and a jaw held together by rubberbands, it looked inviting. Each part of its face boasted braille letters, so when the visually impaired Bhavesh Shah ran his fingers across its yellow forehead, he could tell it was the "frontal lobe."
On Thursday, this unique skull—that can help people with visual disabilities identify parts—sat at an exhibition in Delhi among many other things that promise to make life easier for the differently abled. At Techshare, a two-day exhibition on accessibility and assistive technology, visitors were introduced to gadgets such as a heater that causes the black outlines of diagrams to swell so they can be examined with hands.
"Schools and colleges do not have the relevant equipment to teach science and math to people with disabilities. So they have fewer career options," says Shilpi Kapoor, MD of Goregaon-based accessibility firm Barrier Break that, along with Microsoft, organised Techshare. This is probably why her firm has come out with innovations such as syringes with cuts that help the visually impaired with measurements and maps whose outlines were superimposed with glue.
"After seventh grade, students with visual impairments are forced to opt for Home Science," says 26-year-old Amit Bagwe, a third-year BSc IT student. "Why should this be the case? Even if they can't become surgeons, they can certainly become lab assistants given the right resources," asks Bagwe, who himself is proof of how technology can help the disabled. Two years ago, he lost his vision in the right eye in a lab accident. Sodium fumes entered his eyes and not only robbed him of his dream of becoming a forensic scientist but also punctured his pride.
"I used to feel embarrassed every time I would go to a restaurant with friends as I couldn't read the bill," says Bagwe, who soon bought the Optelec Compac Plus magnifier, which looks like a tablet. For over a year now, it has been bailing him out of situations. While at a restaurant, he simply slides it over the bill and pushes a button till the figure appears magnified to point size 20 at least. "It also helps me read railway tickets and bus numbers."
The biggest gift of technology, says Bhavesh Shah, who is visually impaired by birth and who uses a screen-reading software called Supernova at work, would be independence. Shah, who has to depend on his parents to pick his clothes, points to the Touch Memo Digital Voice Labeller, which comprises a mike and a sticker with serial numbers. "I can stick these numbers on shirts, CDs and medicines and use the gadget to record a voice message identifying each one," says Shah, who currently has to sort shirts by keeping them in various positions in his suitcase while travelling.
Such pieces of technology that help the differently abled cope with everyday challenges, were also part of Techshare. Among them was the Go Talk express 32, which looks like a picture board. By pressing the slots with recorded words like 'Please' and 'eat' in a sequence, the speech impaired can express themselves in sentences. However, not all products bear the burden of functionality. For instance, there's one device that looks like a clock with just six numbers. When you press a button on the right, the hand stops on a number. It is a dice.