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Learning becomes richer, deeper for children with vision impairments with Tactopus

February 28, 2019

In our series #TechThursdays, we bring you news of Tactopus, a new resource that brings learning alive in meaningful ways for children who are blind and low vision.

A summer internship at the Xavier's Resource Center for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) in Mumbai brought home to Chandni Rajendan the many limitations children with visual disabilities face when it comes to education. This led her to look at ways to make tactile learning more engaging and accessible for them.

That journey led to Tactopus, a one of its kind 'smart' audio-tactile learning resource. Co-founded by Rajendran and Saloni Mehta, who were classmates at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, Tactopus promises a multi-sensory and engaging learning experiences for children, especially designed for the needs of children with vision loss.

The books are supported by a namesake app that explains what the child is exploring in the tactile book with his/her fingers through appropriate sound labels. While mainly designed for children with visual disabilities, these products make learning engaging for children with developmental delays and learning disabilities as well.

I don't think any part of the world has achieved acceptable levels of access to visual learning material adapted for the blind. Its effect is severely limiting, as students with blindness will find themselves having worked hard through primary or secondary school, and when the time comes to choose between sciences and commerce or arts, they'd be limited to subjects that have minimum visual learning, like law, which is largely text heavy, and can be handled with braille or audio books. Very few schools and nearly no universities in India are capable of supporting blind students' desire to pursue engineering or sciences due to lack of accessible resources. - Chandni Rajendran, Co-founder, Tactopus

Rajendran highlights some of the ways in which the barriers operate in a classroom for children with vision disabilities.

"Take a typical class of 30 students of which a couple of students have vision loss. If the topic being taught is water cycle, for example, all children will have access to textbooks with printed images that help them see and visualise the larger picture, experience the scale at which the churn of water happens. This kind of conceptual understanding, sighted people may take for granted, but for a child with blindness to comprehend this may be more difficult. The same applies to many things, such as the structure of an animal cell, or the design of a combustion engine".

This results in concepts that are understood in an incomplete manner says Rebecca Carvalho, a special educator with XRCVC. "Vision has no impact on the intellect. You are as curious or intelligent as the other, but your world is limited by how much you are able to see or feel. The basics are being neglected".

Multi sensory approach

Tactopus has tried to address these problems by working closely with special educators. There are tactile, embossed, textured impressions of these key learning concepts in the form of books, flashcards, game boards, etc. The tactile graphics are augmented with a smart technology that act as an interactive audio companion, helping children learn independently.

The tactile product range includes:

  • My Counting Book & Cards: Focused on counting of basic numbers (0 - 9) with tactile objects and corresponding number cards. An interactive activity book of numbers that facilitates fun and independent learning with instant feedback for the child.
  • What makes you special?: Focused on introducing the animal kingdom to kids. As the child feels the animal through his/her fingers - the app supplements it with sounds and facts about the animal.
  • Children's Nursery Rhymes: A bundle of 8 rhyme cards - each with a nursery rhyme that plays on the app when scanned.

"Learning should be fun, enriching and independent and the products offered by Tactopus do just that", says Upasana Makati, Founder-Editor, White Print, India's first lifestyle magazine in Braille. Makati was among the mentors for the team. "The sighted have innumerable options to facilitate this process but the visually impaired community is ignored. Tactopus marries technology with the touch and feel element which to me is extremely important".

Tactopus, which is supported by Social Alpha, a Tata Trusts initiative, and IDFC First CSR team, will hopefully encourage educators to think about different ways of teaching as well.

"We are striving to make education more inclusive, accessible, enriching and interactive through universal design tools", says co-founder, Saloni Mehta. "By using a simple, inexpensive phone camera, we hope to make it affordable and accessible for all and thereby, level the playing field for visually impaired children. This is just the beginning".

Other stories in the #TechThursdays series:

Enable Makeathon brings together key players to power innovative assistive tech solutions

BleeTV offers accessible, stimulating content, on demand, in Indian sign language

Updated version of Avaz app has plenty to offer, enables access to wider audience

Handicare enables people with lower limb disability to move around in a safe, hygienic manner

Tobii Dynavox eye tracker is opening new world to little Ganga & others like her

TouchVision brings pictures alive for people with visual disabilities



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