Through this IIT-Delhi alumnus’ innovation, visually-impaired can see pictures and diagrams

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Ankita Gulati, IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad alumnus. (Graphic: Gargi Singh)

With the help of digital inclusion device, visually-impaired can access the diagrams and pictorial content. IIT-Delhi alumnus, Ankita Gulati has developed a device called TouchVision which narrates the content in the picture when a visually-impaired person touches it. “A foldable stand is used to position a smartphone camera for scanning tactile material and pointer ring on user’s index finger is used to read the text. The smartphone through an app provides simultaneous audio to the user as per index finger’s location. Label and description of the diagrams are narrated based on different finger gestures performed by the user,” explains Gulati, a Delhi Technological University (DTU) graduate.

The Touch Vision device

The 27-year-old has studied B.Tech and M.Tech in computer science from DTU. She chose assistive technology for her master’s thesis and decided to take help from IIT-Delhi deputy director, Balakrishnan for her thesis. Balakrishnan is renowned academician and has nurtured many ventures in assistive technology.

It was during one of the school visits for her project that the idea to develop the gadget came up. “During a geography class at a special school in Noida, the educator was trying to teach about Indian states using a single handmade tactile map for 25 students. The map was being rotated among students and the teacher was giving a verbal description. Clearly, students were not able to understand and comprehend,” said Gulati.

During her research, she found STEM subjects are inaccessible for visually impaired. “Students are not encouraged to study mathematics and science beyond class 8 in India due to the unavailability of the content. Even in other subjects, diagrams are omitted out of the books. Visually-challenged students are unable to access the entire curriculum even in inclusive schools. This limits their employment, education and developmental opportunities,” said she.

This motivated her to convert her thesis into an entrepreneurial venture. For which she pursued a course in entrepreneurship from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and a course in entrepreneurship and management from IIT-Delhi. She topped both the courses and was awarded gold medals. This Delhi girl received a seed grant from the IIM-Ahmedabad worth Rs 25 lakh and IIT-Delhi offered to incubate her idea.

She has been working on the technology since 2015 and received the national award for her idea within two months. Four prototypes and two years later the final version (and fifth prototype) was created in July 2017. Each prototype was tested by teaching blind students for 6-8 months and revised based on feedback.

Receiving the award, according to her, created awareness about the graphics accessibility but convincing the visually-impaired was still a task. Being a woman scientist, Gulati often found herself at a back-foot. “The number of women in technology and science is scarce. In most events or meetings, I was the only woman in the discussion. This needs to be changed. The number of women enrolling in STEM courses is high but retention rates are low,” she said.

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