Technology October 16, 2020
#BlindnessAwarenessMonth – Paul D’Souza is truly an inventor with a heart
Be it a kindle for visually impaired people to a tool that enables people with vision impairments to draw, innovator Paul D’Souza’s inventions are inspired by a commitment to enable people with disabilities to participate equally in the world around them. As we celebrate Blindness Awareness Month, we profile a man who is changing the lives of so many people.
As a child Paul D’Souza was encouraged to pursue hobbies. This led to an expertise in essential household skills like plumbing as well as carpentry and fretwork which is ornamental design on wood.
“My mum instilled in us the love for all things old!”, says Paul. “I am passionate about all things mechanical and soon had a pretty large collection of vintage clocks and watches that I would restore in my spare time”.
This passion and precision is evident in Paul’s inventor avataar as well. From a refreshable braille reader to a drawing tool for visually impaired students Paul has developed assistive technologies that are enabling people with disabilities to participate as equal citizens.
Journey towards assistive tech
The journey towards assistive technologies started in 2009 when one day he was listening to Western music which is written with dots placed on a series of lines.
I figured, if the dots could come out of the page, then someone who is blind might be able to read music. So, I set about making a device that did that. That prototype was my first Braille Display. I went on to win an award and the government also gave me a grant to make an advanced prototype. – Paul D’Souza, Founder, ToucheTech Labs Pvt. Ltd.
Paul made 10 different Braille Displays in as many years. One of the Braille cell modules works on par with Internationally available technologies but at a fraction of the cost.
He also invented the Tiffy Template, a device that helped visually impaired people identify Indian currency notes until demonetisation in 2017. It is named after Tiffany Brar, Founder, Jyotirgamaya Foundation, who asked Paul to make her such a device. “The device was hugely popular and thousands were given free to any blind person who requested them”, says Paul. This was the result of a successful crowd funding campaign.
Strong sense of empathy
What is evident in all these inventions is a strong sense of empathy. Take Paul’s most recent invention Roulette. It was conceived after a blind friend asked him to make something so she could draw on paper.
“Paul is someone who truly embodies the Christian spirit, this thinking of ‘thine need if greater than mine’”, says T R Raghunandan, whom Paul calls friend and counsellor. An accomplished model maker, this former IAS official has known Paul for over 20 years. “He has got a three dimensional intelligence that I have rarely seen in any one. You just have to talk to him and he can visualise what you are saying”.
The trigger for the innovative streak usually comes from a simple request or a problem statement. “Sometimes it stems from a challenge that I observe. We are encouraged to innovate and complement on our innovations. But innovations happen when we tweak existing inventions to extract more value from them”, says Paul.
Paul’s commitment to use technology to enable marginalised people is a great source of inspiration for Paul Kronenberg, who along with Sabriye Tenberken, is the founder of Kanthari, a leadership programme for people who have overcome adversities like disability, domestic violence, to name a few. “Paul is one of the most generous people I know”, he says. ‘He read about this blind young girls in a school and organised a Braille typewriter for her on her birthday. He has done this for many people”.
Supriya Dey, Co-Founder, Vision Empower, regards him as the pioneer of the Braille Reader industry in India. “He has been an icon for so many people and is always looking at how to make life simpler for people with disabilities. He takes up every wish people express with the utmost seriousness and respect. It is rare to find people like that”.
- #BlindnessAwarenessMonth – Hexis aims to improve learning outcomes of visually impaired children in India
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