Swalekhan: Empowering The Visually Impaired To Write

Anvita Srivastava
Sunday, 10 November 2019

Empowering The Visually Impaired To Write A batch of around 15 students from Taramati Bafna Blind School of Aurangabad gave their first unit test on their own.

Swalekhan: Empowering The Visually Impaired To Write A batch of around 15 students from Taramati Bafna Blind School of Aurangabad gave their first unit test on their own. Thanks to the new Android application ‘Swalekhan’, a Marathi typing tutor created in July this year. An initiative by Niwant Andh Mukta Vikasalaya, in an effort to empower visually impaired students with the ability to write on their own instead of depending on the scribes, the application has come as a blessing for visually impaired.

At present, as many as 450 students from Std II  to X from seven blind schools in cities like Pune, Shrirampur, Nanded, Nashik and Aurangabad are taking lessons to type with the help of this application.

Monika Randive (25), a visually impaired girl from Solapur who has been associated with Niwant for past eight years, is Head of Computer Training Department. She faced lot of issues because of dependence on scribes to write exams. She said, “I have faced a lot of problems because of dependence on writers. 

When I was in Std X1, in between my exam, my writer backed out and refused to write the entire paper.”

“It was disheartening for me. There are several issues which visually impaired students like me have faced like it  being difficult to think and dictate the answers. If the writer is not efficient or slow in writing, we face problems. It is difficult to get a good writer. This application will help students to write on their own. It is interactive and the lessons get recorded in mp3, making it clear for us to understand,” added Randive.

Uma Badve, Trustee, Niwant Andh Mukta Vikasalaya said, “Our institute has been working with visually impaired students post their Std X  for the past 22 years. In these many years, we always heard from them complaining about not having independence to write their own exams and dependence on scribes. Therefore, we decided to use technology to empower these children with Swalekhan so they can write on their own.”

‘Swalekhan’, an Android application has 78 lessons in mp3 format so it can enable the visually impaired students to understand clearly. It takes two months’ time for students to take 78 lessons and an OTG cable was used to connect to smartphones with keyboard so that students can take interactive lessons. It also has interactive quiz and games as part of lessons. This application has a content of 13 hours and lessons have been recorded in Marathi. 

Badve said, “Since we have been focusing on school students of the state, therefore all the lessons are in Marathi to enable students to write in Marathi. It is a self-learning typing tutor but we send a team of visually impaired teachers to all these schools to assist students and give them a push to learn Marathi typing. The Braille keyboard is also used as a learning tool and they can smoothly switch to normal keyboard. We help students get till the 20th lesson and then the school takes over.”

This application was developed by Josh Software, a Pune-based company over three years. This application runs with mostly human voice guided assistance accompanied with Text-To-Speech guided assistance at a few places. Gautam Rege, Co-Founder and Director, Josh Software said, “It took us around three years to develop this application. However, the entire audio content creation was done by Niwant as they recorded all the 78 lessons. Our job was to create an application and also to sync the text with audio file.”

“It took us a long time as we do not want to take anything for face value and there have been constant trials and feedback throughout the development of the software so that it can translate into better results as each and every student learns at his or her own pace. This app will help these children by elevating them and it will be great if it can become part of the education system,” added Rege.

Recently, Kailash Nikam, Principal, Taramati Bafna Blind school said, “We have introduced Swalekhan in our school couple of months back and around 70 students were learning on this. Last month, a batch of around 15 students have given their unit test on their own. It’s very empowering for these students and they were excited to give their exams on their own not to be dependent on scribes.”

Around 84 students from The Poona School and Home For The Blind Girls, Kothrud are using this app and have completed 51 lessons till now. Rajaram Jagtap, Principal, The Poona School and Home for the Blind Girls, Kothrud said, “We introduced this application in our school on July 17 and 84 stusdents from Std V to VIII are learning to type with this application. Students are extremely happy to write on their own. We are hoping that some of them write their upcoming final exams in March on their own.”

“We are in talks with a lot of schools and colleges and our aim is to introduce this app at least to 1,000 visually impaired students across Maharashtra by January 2020, so they can gain freedom from a scribe and prove their ability to think and write on their own,” added Badve. 

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