Thinkerbell Labs makes learning Braille easier for children
In The Power of Braille series we look at an initiative that is attempting to empower India's blind population with Braille. The initiative is by Thinkerbell Labs, formerly known as Project Mudra.
It was while he was fiddling around with a Raspberry Pi that Aman Srivastava for the idea of developing a Braille device that would make learning Braille easier for the blind.
Srivastava and his classmate Sanskriti Dawle were second year students at BITS Pilani, Goa campus, when they were exploring the idea of making a simple device on the lines of the Raspberry Pi, which is a cheap computer the size of a credit card.
"We were working on the signal display of the Raspberry Pi, which is very similar to Braille", recalls Srivastava. "We thought we could automate this and that led us to make one of our own Braille displays."
Braille literacy rates have dropped to less than 10% in 30 years
Further research on the low Braille literacy rate in India firmed up their resolve to explore this in an in-depth manner.Despite a significant blind population, India's Braille literacy rate ranks among the lowest in the world. This impacts the blind population in many ways, by isolating them, making them unemployable, and therefore dependent.
"We knew that this was the problem that needed to be addressed and it would in turn increase the overall employability of the blind" - Aman Srivastava
This led them to develop Thinkerbell Labs formerly known as Project Mudra, a project that aims to put Braille within reach of all visually impaired people.Their flagship product Annie, is an audio tactile device that enables both, self-learning and classroom teaching of Braille.
Studies show that Braille is essential for cognitive development
Annie runs on a Raspberry Pi and is made up of hardware components such as a refreshable braille display, a digital braille slate, and a Perkins-style braille keyboard. A combination that helps students learn how to read, write, and type in Braille, with all the elements working together in sync.
"Because its a self-learning device, it also helps to bridge the gap as with Annie one can learn Braille from the start. So we are trying to fill that gap where a lot of blind people are falling out of the education system" - Aman Srivastava
Annie also teaches through interactive audio. The learning is reinforced at multiple levels with a refreshable braille display and a keyboard that a child can tinker around with. There is a structure with a lesson plan, rewards system and all of this can be monitored by a teacher or parent.
Through Annie, Dawle and Srivastava are also hoping to address the twin problems of low Braille literacy and the lack of special educators in India. "This device has enough and is complete in itself so even if there is no special educator to teach, a child can pick it up and learn", points out Srivastava.
Click below to read the other stories in The Power of Braille series: