#InclusionChamps – Ankita Gulati wins Universal Design Award 2019 for TouchVision
The winners of the national disability awards this year give us much to hope when it comes to building an inclusive India for tomorrow. Starting today, we share profiles of some of the winners of the NCPEDP MPHASIS Universal Design Award 2019, beginning with Ankita Gulati for her device TouchVision.
Every year the NCPEDP MPHASIS Universal Design Award 2019 is bestowed on people and organisations that are enabling and enriching lives of people with disabilities in India in different ways. Ankita Gulati, a national award winning scientist and alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D) is among those to win it this year for the device TouchVision. This device narrates the content in the picture when a blind or low vision person touches it.
The idea of developing TouchVision came to Ankita while she was doing her masters in assistive technology in IIT-Delhi.
While doing a course on assistive technology during my Master’s degree, I happened to visit many blind schools for a project I was working on. During one such visit, I saw a teacher teaching about Indian states using a single handmade tactile map. The map was being circulated among 25 odd students with the teacher giving a verbal description. That was shocking for me and I started probing more. – Ankita Gulati, Founder, TouchVision
It brought home to Ankita the many ways blind and low vision students in India face exclusion at the school level from poorly trained teachers to lack of accessible reading materials. This translates to a denial in the freedom of pursuing subjects of their choice, especially those that rely on the use of diagrams or images, like science, maths and geography.
After speaking to many blind students and experts, Ankita found that visually impaired students were discouraged by mainstream as well as special schools from studying science and maths beyond class 8 due to lack of content. This was also true for subjects like geography that rely heavily on diagrams. This limits opportunities for educational growth as well as employment prospects.
TouchVision changes that in an easy to use and affordable manner, making it accessible to all, one of the main aims of the award as Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) put it in his address at the ceremony. “Without accessibility, inclusion is impossible. Some of the ideas that have won this year are so futuristic that it gives us hope.”
How TouchVision Works
The device is made up of a foldable stand that is used to position a smartphone camera for scanning tactile material. A pointer ring on the user’s index finger is used to read the text. Through an app, the smartphone provides simultaneous audio to the user as per index finger’s location. The label and description of the diagrams are narrated as per the finger gestures of the user.
The technology available in the United States and United Kingdom to make pictures accessible is rather expensive, says Ankita. “Even the ones with interactive graphics are expensive and the additional devices cost over US$ 3,000. It’s expensive for them and we cannot scale it in India. We have developed our own tactile graphics and a portable stand so it can be carried anywhere. All you need is a phone app and you are set to go.”
Its truly a labour of love for Ankita who created five prototypes, testing each one on blind students and using their feedback until she got it right.
“Everyone told me I should be working on something that will make me lots of money, but I persisted because this was important to me and I was enjoying myself so much!”, she says.
PROFILES OF OTHER WINNERS: