Use­ful aids for the blind

There are gad­gets to make life eas­ier for the vis­ually hand­i­capped.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By MAJORIE CHIEW star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE vis­ually im­paired use a white cane to as­sist in mo­bil­ity and nav­i­ga­tion. But now, there is the smart cane de­vice, an elec­tronic travel aid, that they can look for­ward to. This de­vice is fit­ted onto the top fold of the white cane and acts as an ex­ten­sion to the cane.

The de­vice uses ul­tra­sonic waves to de­tect the pres­ence of ob­sta­cles. It has an ul­tra­sonic sen­sor which can trans­mit and re­ceive ul­tra­sonic waves. The sound waves are not au­di­ble to the hu­man ear.

These waves get re­flected from ob­sta­cles and are de­tected by the sen­sors in the de­vice. A warn­ing is is­sued to the user in the form of vi­bra­tions sim­i­lar to that from a cellphone.

The de­vice was de­vel­oped by the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in New Delhi, In­dia.

It was one of the de­vices fea­tured at Knowl­edge-Tech­nol­ogy Shar­ing Ex­hi­bi­tion held at the Malaysian As­so­ci­a­tion for the Blind (MAB) in Brick­fields, Kuala Lumpur, re­cently.

The four-day event fea­tured 25 as­sis­tive tech­nol­ogy de­vices from In­dia. The ex­hi­bi­tion was or­gan­ised by MAB’s Braille pub­lish­ing and sales unit and li­brary re­source cen­tre in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ved Va­sudev Pratishthan (VVP), an NGO in In­dia, and Se­vai Ashram Foun­da­tion Malaysia, a lo­cal NGO in­volved in com­mu­nity wel­fare work.

VVP In­dia pres­i­dent Ajit K. Tukdeo led a 30-mem­ber del­e­ga­tion from In­dia to pro­mote the gad­gets. Among the gad­gets that cap­ti­vated the au­di­ence were the Ul­tra­sonic Pen Au­dio La­beller and Talk­ing Menu. When the pen is pointed at a tag next to a dish on the cus­tomised Braille-and-text menu, it would read out the name of the dish!

An­other de­vice, a Liq­uid Level In­di­ca­tor, is clipped onto the brim of a cup. When liq­uid is poured into the cup and touches the sen­sors, beeps are sent out to warn the user against over­pour­ing the liq­uid.

There were also large red and yel­low gog­gles which serve as a glare re­ducer and light en­hancer re­spec­tively.

Thava­sothy S.M. Pil­lai, chair­man of MBA li­brary, low vi­sion depart­ment and Braille pub­li­ca­tion unit, said: “As part of our on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme, we need af­ford­able, new and so­phis­ti­cated equip­ment which can be used by the blind and the low vi­sion com­mu­nity.”

Bridg­ing the gap

Senator Bath­ma­vathi Kr­ish­nan said that in the past, some gad­gets were things peo­ple read about in jour­nals; even or­gan­i­sa­tions could not af­ford them, let alone in­di­vid­u­als.

“The vis­ually im­paired and the blind de­pend on au­dio in­put and vol­un­tary read­ings by the sighted (for easy ac­cess of in­for­ma­tion). But now, thanks to the ad­vent of tech­nol­ogy, the gap nar­rows be­tween what is avail­able to the sighted and the vis­ually im­paired,” said the senator who is a mem­ber of the Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion of Malaysia.

Sumitha Tha­va­nen­dran, prin­ci­pal of MAB’s ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing divi­sion, said MAB should or­gan­ise such ex­hi­bi­tions more fre­quently to en­able the blind to know more about gad­gets they can buy from third world coun­tries such as In­dia, as these would be cheaper than those from de­vel­oped coun­tries.

Was­an­thee Sin­nasamy, pres­i­dent of Se­vai Ashram, said her or­gan­i­sa­tion learnt about these gad­gets from VVP and de­cided to work with MAB to ex­hibit them in Malaysia as they would be of in­ter­est to the vis­ually im­paired com­mu­nity.

“Many of the vis­ually im­paired were happy with the ex­hibits and some ex­pressed in­ter­est in buy­ing them,” she said.

Re­tiree James Mong, 68, who is vis­ually im­paired, tried out the smart cane de­vice. He was im­pressed with it.

The smart cane de­vice was mar­keted in In­dia about two years ago. It is sell­ing for 5,000 rupees (RM335).

Bank re­cep­tion­ist Eu­gene Hng, 53, who is vis­ually im­paired, trav­elled by bus to MAB after learn­ing about the ex­hi­bi­tion from MAB In­fo­line.

It’s Magic

He tested out Magic An­gel, a de­vice that func­tions as an au­dio recorder, MP3 player and eBooks reader. “Won­der what magic it can do,” quipped Hng as he pushed the but­tons on the gad­get.

Hng dis­cov­ered that this gad­get from In­dia is sim­i­lar to a Hong Kong gad­get which can play mu­sic, record voice and read eBooks.

Econ­o­mist M. Manokaran, 57, brought his daugh­ter Shaarini, 25, to the ex­hi­bi­tion. Shaarini has nys­tag­mus since birth. (Nys­tag­mus is a con­di­tion in which the eyes move rapidly and un­con­trol­lably, re­sult­ing in re­duced or lim­ited vi­sion.)

De­spite her vis­ual im­pair­ment, the gutsy lass is de­ter­mined to over­come chal­lenges, thanks to parental sup­port and her fam­ily’s love. She is a sec­ond-year stu­dent pur­su­ing a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy at a lo­cal univer­sity.

Manokaran said Shaarini is very much de­pen­dent on a CCTV Mag­ni­fier to mag­nify text to make read­ing eas­ier. The first mag­ni­fier broke down after a few years and he bought a sec­ond one which she is now us­ing.

“Vis­ual aids like the mag­ni­fier are very costly,” he said.

At the ex­hi­bi­tion, Manokaran ex­pressed in­ter­est in a hand-held mag­ni­fier which might come in handy for his daugh­ter.

Dhanan­jay Dhanorka putting on a pair of red gog­gles on his daugh­ter, Arya. The gog­gles act as a glare re­ducer. — Pho­tos: SA­MUEL ONG/The Star

Mong try­ing out the smart cane de­vice fit­ted onto the top fold of the white cane. The de­vice uses ul­tra­sonic waves to de­tect the pres­ence of ob­sta­cles.

Vol­un­teer Aish­warya Am­bike (right), demon­strat­ing the use of the Ul­tra­sonic Pen Au­dio La­beller and Talk­ing Menu to Thava­sothy. Look­ing on is Ajit.

Shaarini is happy as a lark as she tries out a pair of gog­gles for the vis­ually im­paired. — MAJORIE CHIEW/The Star

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