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Raised Line Foundation, an IIT-Delhi initiative, is working to bring the power of choice to visually impaired students

Imagine learning about a vast and diverse country like India without the aid of a map? Or understanding basic science experiments without access to diagrams?

These are real, daily barriers in learning that students with vision impairments face across the world. Barriers that come in the way of pursuing many subjects and hamper career choices.

Walls that Raised Lines Foundation (RLF) is helping to address through a technology that uses 3D printing to produce tactile diagrams that are affordable. Their aim is to open doors to new subjects and learning opportunities to students who are blind and low vision.

RLF was incubated after four years of research at the Centre of Excellence in Tactile Graphics at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D), and sponsored by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India.

It started during the development journey of SmartCane, a device that helps visually impaired person to navigate independently. We thought of representing its functionality with the help of tactile diagrams. While doing that we found out that there is no scalable and affordable means available for production of tactile diagrams in developing nations, hence diagrams were not available in the textbooks. Because of this students have to leave subjects like Mathematics, Science, Geography, etc. especially in the higher secondary stage. Schools and institutions rely on manual-based interventions like thread, wires, and cotton for creating the diagrams manually that is tedious and non-scalable. - Kunal Kwatra, Director, raised Line Foundation

Power of touch

Substantial research by the RLF team went into developing a technology that was affordable and scalable for bulk production of tactile diagrams.

"Assume a diagram to be shared in a classroom of 50 odd students, which meant 50 copies of the diagrams need to be created using manual interventions, this was the problem statement that came into picture", explains Kwatra. The swell-based method used in the United Kingdom and United States was found to be unaffordable so the team researched various available technologies.

The team developed diagrams based on guidelines so they were intuitive for visually impaired students to understand. They used existing international standards and guidelines from the Braille Authority, U.S. and Royal National Institute for the Blind in the UK.

So far, the RLF team has produced nearly 70,000 tactile diagrams and designs for students from classes six to 12. They have designed and produced textbooks in partnership with the .

Pushpa Madhwal, teacher at the Saksham School for the Blind in Noida shared this feedback from a class 10 student.

"The tactile books have helped a lot. These books were a medium to provide a clear visualization of various complicated illustrations and were a helping hand throughout the year. However, at times, it was difficult to distinguish between different colour combinations which were indicated by various textures in the books".

Going ahead the foundation has ambitious plans of reaching out to each and every visually impaired student so they get access to diagrams which will help to pursue different subjects, not just locally but worldwide.

The team is not limiting itself to school curriculum. A recent manual designed by the foundation on menstrual hygiene has come in for much praise. It also gets orders for designing from art galleries, museums and training centres for visually impaired people.

Clearly, Raised Lines Foundation is looking to open a whole new world to a community that has been in the shadows when it comes to opportunities in education and employment.

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