Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Empowering the Visually Challenged

Visually Challenged
The Visually Challenged people have been using canes as mobility tools for centuries but it was not until after World War 1 that white cane was introduced. James Biggs, a photographer who became blind after an accident painted his walking stick white when he found it difficult to walk in the traffic around his home.  That was in 1921. Ten years later Gully d’ Herbemont launched a national white stick movement for blind people in France.
The White Cane Day is celebrated   across the world every year on the 15th of October. The objective is to educate the world about blindness and how the visually challenged and visually impaired can live and work independently.
Over the year there has been a revolution in research and production of various assistive tools for visually challenged to enable them to travel, work, study and live their life independently. Information transmission, mobility and computer access have been the three main thrust areas of research.
            The White cane  too has under gone  several changes, now there are  folding canes, light weight canes  and  even  electronic  canes with sensors.
A number of devices have been developed to make the visually challenged computer savvy. These include voice synthesizers, talking softwares and screen magnifiers,Braille note taker with Braille keys.
In India Several  initiatives have been taken by the Government  for  the  visually challenged  to develop  and  facilitate access  to assistive devices and empower them in the field of education, employment and  mobility to make them self dependent.  
The ADIP Scheme Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase / Fitting of Aids and Appliances Scheme provides financial assistance to meet the cost of aids and appliances. Under the scheme the Department of Disability Affairs gives Grant-in-aid to the NGOs to provide durable, sophisticated and scientifically manufactured, ISI standard aids and appliances to people with disabilities including the visually challenged  to empower them by reducing the the effects of disabilities.  
The quantum of assistance and income limit under the ADIP Scheme for persons with total income of upto 6500 rupees per month is the full cost of the appliance and for those with income between Rs 6501 and 10,000, it is 50 per cent of the full cost.
The scheme is implemented through NGOs, National Institutes under the Ministry and ALIMCO (a PSU).
Although the income limits of the cost of appliances permissible for assistance are quite low at present the Government is working on to increase the limits. The Department of Disability Affairs under the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry was set up only last year. This was done to strengthening the existing schemes and formulating the new ones, and also for technological innovations as well as to make easier coordination with various stakeholders, NGOs, State Governments, other related central ministries and international organizations like United Nations, as India is a signatory to UNCRPD.
The scheme - Science & Technology Project in Mission Mode is to provide suitable and cost effective aids and appliances through the application of technology and to increase their employment opportunities and integration in society. Under the scheme, suitable R&D projects are identified and funded for developing aids and appliances. The scheme is implemented through the IITs, Educational Institutes, Research Agencies and Voluntary Organisations etc. Financial assistance is provided on 100% basis.
The IIT Delhi has developed what is called a Smart Cane which has electronic sensors that can easily detect ground level obstacles.
Under the national project ‘Information Technology for the Braille Literacy in Indian languages.’ A West Bengal Government Undertaking  Webel Mediatronic  has installed IT based  Braille Systems  at 190 special schools for the visually challenged  all over India. It has also developed  Internet Access and Rehabilitation  tools for the visually challenged  which include  Electronic Braille Display  which is 40 character Tactile reader, Automatic Brailler Embrosser and a number of software’s  that include  Braille writing  and screen reading software among others.
The National Institute for the Visually Handicapped a premier Institute in the field of visual disability working under the administrative control of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment also undertakes research and developmental activities. Its R&D activities have contributed a number of useful tools and enabling technologies for equal participation by the visually impaired persons in different walks of life. The Institute is largest producer and distributor of Braille literature and devices in the country including talking books. It also has an online library of books in Braille in several regional languages. 

  In another initiative, a few months back the National Fair on Aids & Assistive Devices “SWAVALAMBAN” was organized in Delhi by Department of Disability Affairs.  The fair was held to provide an opportunity to manufacturers, suppliers, researcher and PwDs to exchange their views and evolve a method by which these modern aids & appliances could be made available to the needy ones at reasonable cost.

Twenty per cent of the blind  across the world are in India and  unfortunately despite the facilities for development of  various kinds of  assistive and supportive tools available in our country, there is  still  shortage of  supply of  even text books in Braille for students. The supply by manufacturers of  the basic mobility tool of white canes  too  falls much  short of the demand. 

Also while number of  tactile tool for  use in education as well games and entertainment have been developed there is a need to make available gadgets like   talking thermometer, Blood Pressure talker, colour probe  or a CD for audio description  of visuals in movies at reasonable cost. 

The President of the All India Confederation of the Blind  Mr A.K Mittal  says they  expect  the government  to  increase  grant in aid  and also  speed up the payment process.    Mr Mittal who is also member of the world Braille Council feels that as far facilities for the visually challenged in inclusive education are concerned, there is little progress and a lot more needs to be done. He says there is also a need  to make the high tech  and costly  devices  like Braille note taker or  other assistive devices to be developed or assembled in India  so that  are available  at reasonable prices.

While Braille opened  the world of reading and writing for the visually challenged and the White Cane made their mobility easier, today with the development of  a number of assistive tools, the need is to ensure that these  supportive devices  are made  available at affordable prices to empower  the visually challenged to make them  independent  and not  dependent  on others.

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