Published: 21st August 2019
MSRIT team creates app that can print maps for visually impaired students at just Rs 5
Prof Mydhili Nair of MSRIT talks about their new applications, designed especially for visually-impaired students to make map and image reading easier
Technology has made life easier for everyone, not only with the information available at our fingertips but with those friendly apps as well. One such app that has made the life of visually-impaired students easier is Soft Braille, an app developed and launched by a team of students and a professor from MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology. Printing images or maps for blind students, which was once costly, has become cheap more — what would cost `70, now costs only `5. Not just that, one can print many images as the cost is low.
Dr Mydhili K Nair, Professor and UG programme co-ordinator says, "The college made an open call for all departments to come up with various ideas to develop an app and a particular company will fund our project. We proposed the idea of developing software to print images and maps for visually-impaired students. Hence, we visited the Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind to understand how they study maps and images. We learnt that the images or maps for these children are designed with hard materials like cardboards, clothes or cotton in the form of models. When visually-impaired students touch them, they get to learn the shape and size of it. But in this process of shifting those models from one place to another, there will be wear and tear. These models require a lot of manual work also."
Reimagining images: Students at the Mathru Educational Trust using the software to read map
In this process, Mydhili and her team also realised that the thermal printed images cost a lot. Therefore, the school has only one or two Atlas map books available. She narrates, "We also visited two printing centres which print these maps for the blind. There is a particular swell paper on which they have to print images using a thermal printer. It comes out as an embossed printing. Though it looks beautiful and colourful, it costs a lot and a burden for the schools to buy such costly books. Thus, the first app, Soft Braille has resolved this problem by finding a breakthrough technique, eliminating the appendix by printing the images and text on the same page using affordable Braille printer stationery costing only `5, which is an ordinary dot-matrix Braille printer. The image that is printed looks very simple but it has a dotted outline. We have developed another app called TALK - Tactile Auditory Learning Kit. It is a desktop app that aims to make blind student 'imagine' images by listening to the audio labels associated with the tactile image outlines that they feel."
Explaining the exact process, she says, "One needs to open the camera and place the image or map close to it. The visually-impaired student who wants to read the map has to wear a bright green coloured ring on their finger. Then, they can trace their hand over the map. For example, if they are reading the India map, then the app will read the name of the state loudly and other details along with it. A particular person will record the audio label in this format: Name of the book, chapter, page and label. For all the images that are printed using Soft Braille, the audio label is available in the app." When asked if there are any blind schools using the app, she replies, "Yes, Mathru Educational Trust is using this app and they are quite happy with it. After their positive response, many other blind schools in Chennai and Bengaluru have come forward to adopt it."
Apart from this, the team has researched and come up with an idea to help visually-impaired children solve Math problems. "Nemeth Braille is a famous Braille language across the other countries and is used to teach Math to blind students. Not many people know this language in India. Hence, we developed another app called Auducator. The app explains Math problems in the form of a story in audio format, thus making Math accessible to all visually-impaired school students in India," says Mydhili, whose team is working on the vernacular versions of the app.