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World Menstrual Hygiene Day - Tactile kit explains periods to visually impaired girls

Thanks to awareness campaigns and some Bollywood films, menstrual hygiene is finally getting talked about. However, information gaps persist especially for girls and women with visual disabilities, something a recently introduced toolkit is trying to address. .

For a natural, biological process, the myths and misinformation around periods many. They act as barriers, preventing girls and women from access to an education or even life-saving information. Now, just imagine how harder it gets for those with visual disabilities.

So, when you watch a video of 16-year-old Meeta* (not her real name) explain what menstruation is all about with the help of a tactile apron, you are witnessing a game changing moment, and not just for girls and women.

Enabling this change is a toolkit called As We Grow Up developed by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) in partnership with Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, Centre of Excellence in Tactile Graphics, Saksham Trust, and the Noida Deaf Society.

Compact kit

The toolkit consists of a tactile book, a facilitators' manual, a tactile apron, an audio book, an EPUB - and a video in Indian Sign Language. All of these are in Hindi and English. The Hindi version is called Jaise Hum Badhte Hain.

The idea says Kamini Prakash, Former Technical Officer, Equality and Non-Discrimination, WSSCC is to break the silence around menstruation. Since 2012, the WSSCC has supported the government of India in integrating menstrual hygiene management in various health programs.

In 2015, the spotlight came on vulnerable groups that are invisible to policy makers and this was followed up with consultations on how to reach out to them.

It was then that we understood the importance of developing accessible materials on menstrual hygiene management for persons with visual and hearing impairments. In 2016 we held focus group discussions on menstruation and the following year we identified partners who could help us to develop appropriate tools. - Kamini Prakash, Technical Officer, Equality and Non-Discrimination, WSSCC

An estimated 336 million women and girls menstruate every month in India. Only 52% girls know about menstruation before they get their periods, while 45% think that it's abnormal. "Imagine how much more difficult it is for a visually impaired or deaf girl in a remote village facing her first period, points out Prakash.

The toolkit uses interesting and varied ways, like a tactile book with diagrams with explanations in Braille. The tactile graphics have been printed using 3D on thermoform sheets. The book looks at physical changes during puberty, and phases of the menstrual cycle. What is refreshing is that it looks at men and women.

"The kit shows how periods are a physical process and those days can be managed with the use of sanitary pads, says Dr Preeti Khanna, who is with the NAB. "It talks about the importance of washing properly to prevent infections and it tells them that physical changes are happening with boys as well. They don't know this and they often ask questions like 'why does this happen only to us?'

Spreading the word

In 2018, WSSCC and Saksham Trust conducted five regional training workshops for 250 trainers from organizations working with visually impaired people. They were given the books to use in their communities. A follow-up on one-third of the trainers found they had used the materials to reach out to 4,748 visually impaired girls.

Among the trainers who attended the workshop was Ketna Dhirajlal Sutaria from NAB, Rajkot, Gujarat. "I learned such useful and extraordinary things, even facts about periods which I didn't know before!.

Uttarsha, a trainer with Dalit Sangh in Madhya Pradesh, says the toolkit is very useful. "We used it at a workshop and it was quite effective. Now that we have been trained, we will surely take it forward.

The books have also been shared at national-level capacity building programmes. "We just held a training program with various states using the material with teacher-educators, including men, says Anupam Ahuja, Professor, NCERT (Department for Groups with Special Needs. "There is a larger culture of silence and that is evident across the board. During our session for instance, there was a hushed silence among men when menstruation came up because they see it as a woman's issue.

This larger culture of silence cannot be tackled with accessible materials alone, says Ahuja, but this is a major step forward. "We must also remember that this culture of silence is not peculiar to us. I got similar reactions when I presented the toolkit at a Save the Children event in Indonesia recently.

The fact that such an initiative has finally happened is a great sign, says Ruma Roka, Founder, Noida Deaf Society, which was behind the Indian Sign Language video. "We are going beyond education and skilling to look at building greater awareness and information about basic life skills. What we need to look at is targeting villages and here technology alone is not enough. It has to be delivered through a human approach which will take time but will surely happen.

To watch the ISL videos of As We Grow Up, click here:

As We Grow Up: About Menstruation - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53Gmo_47XXA

Jaise Hum Badhte Hain - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW-rI4V8xCU

ALSO READ:From menstrual hygiene to banking, vital info in tactile form now available in some Mumbai blind schools

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