AT for the Global South
Gayatri: I would like to introduce Dr. Manohar Swaminathan and Professor Amit. Dr. Manohar Swaminathan is currently a principal researcher at Microsoft Research. His research interests include virtual and augmented reality technologies. Currently, he is focused on applying these for empowering visually impaired persons. His other interest is in the use of IoT and Cloud for large-scale impact in emerging markets. Dr. Amit Prakash is an Associate Professor and convener of triple IIIT Bangalore Center for Accessibility in the Global South. The focus of his recent research and outreach efforts has been on equity and inclusion in matters related to technology design and policy choices. He is also a founding trustee of Vision Empower. I request Professor Amit and Dr. Manohar to take over the session. Once again a very warm welcome to everyone. Thank you
Dr. Manohar: Welcome everyone to this session on AT in the Global South. So what I want to do is give a quick introduction to AT in the Global South. The idea behind the decision is this is a fantastic time for assistive technology globally. There is a huge convergence of IoT, you know, low-cost smartphones, low-cost sensors, devices, cloud, AI ML, and so on and so forth. There’s an explosion of technology solutions for people with disabilities. However, many of them are may not be appropriate for the Global South. And it is not just about a low-cost AT. There is a whole host of solutions that post of characteristics of the global south that prevent these solutions from being used by people with disabilities. And it should also be noted that 80% of the people who have disabilities are reported to be living in the Global South.
And so what is required is the creation of solutions for people with disabilities that take into account the lived experiences of people with disabilities in these geographies in these areas, and of course, as we see in this conference in India, there’s a tremendous amount of innovation in the technologies for people with disabilities. And the ecosystem is very, very, you know, growing and energetic, as we see in the product demos, and there are incubators and accelerators for technology startups in this space. So there is a large amount of energy and enthusiasm and creativity in this space. However, one of the major constraints in any of these technology solutions, especially for people with disabilities, is that it’s often viewed as a very it is a very niche market. The number of units of sale for a given solution is limited. If we are going to look at India, as a market. India is a large country. There’s a large number of people with disabilities who need these solutions. However, the complication of the global south is that the end-users are most likely not the purchasers. There are government agencies charitable organizations, which come in which procured the solutions and then hand them over to the end-users. And most of the time, the gap between the innovative products in the prototype stage and the market are extremely large. So one of the things that we could do is to explore adjacencies to understand the global south beyond India, what kind of similar experiences are there, and how we could create partnerships between organizations that are working with people with disabilities, they’re innovators in all of these other areas that are creating solutions, and how we can build partnerships and collaborations between the south and south. I mean, so for example, recently I was part of a panel to judge startups in so accessibility in Africa. And I saw very similar kinds of presentations in terms of need in terms of the mismatch between the existing solutions and the current needs in those local environments, and how innovations have to be tailored to the local needs, as well as the ability to be manufactured service and supported locally. So there are very many similarities between what we hear in presentations that we hear here, the solutions that we create here, and the ones that were presented by startups in Africa. And I’m pretty sure that similar things are happening in, for example, Mexico, Brazil, and so on. And so one of the objectives of this session is to start this conversation for this community to empower to build bridges with other innovators working in the area of accessibility and technologies for accessibility. And so what we will do is, in this session, we will have two speakers. First is Vidhya I will introduce her shortly, who will talk about inclusive education in India for children with vision impairments, personal experience as well as her role as the co-founder of vision about trust. And we have Prof Silvia from the University of Mexico, who has joined us, she will talk about the broad use of AT in Mexico, after which we have two short papers that are part of this session. So I suggest that we will have questions after each inviter speaker as well as after serious presentation we will have sort of a panel discussion where we can have open-ended questions about possible areas overlap collaborations etc and so forth.
So let me first invite Vidhya. Vidhya, are you there?
Let me briefly introduce Vidhya. All of you who would have seen Vidhya and her beautiful singing at the convocation at the beginning of the conference. So Vidhya is a co-founder of Vision Empower trust, a disabled people’s organization located in Bangalore and incubator from IIIT Bangalore. Personally I have interacted with India in many capacities. First as an intern at Microsoft Research then for two years as a research fellow, but more productively as the co-founder of Vision Empower trust where we have been doing very interesting work, some of which she may touch upon.
Briefly about Vidhya, she had to cross many, many barriers some of which she will talk about in our talk, but she successfully reached the stage where she was one of the students, early students at the MSc Digital Societies program at IIIT Bangalore. She taught the class and she has a deep passion for enabling STEM education for children with vision impairments in the country. And so she will share her views and perspectives on inclusive education. Over to you Vidhya
Vidhya: Thank you for the introduction. So I hope I’m audible and you can see me. So, firstly, my gratitude to Empower team for having me here. And I’m really happy to be sharing my experiences and my observations. As a person with visual impairments from an Indian perspective, because I live in India. I have been on both sides where there were no accommodations at all. And also I’ve seen how everything has improved when necessary accommodations were provided for me.
And this has helped me understand ground realities better because I’ve been there. And now that I have the privilege to voice out my views and work in this area. I’ll be sharing only what I’ve experienced myself with regard to education. And also I’ll be sharing a little bit on what changes I have observed from my school days till now. And also I’ll be sharing what more could be done to take collective efforts forward. So these are just my lived experiences and observations and I haven’t bought with them from existing literature. So I’ll just start with my experiences now so that you know my background and then I will be able to take it forward from there.
So I am visually impaired since birth, and I was born in a village and in the Indian scenario, we all know the situation what happens in villages so people are not educated. At least in my village. We didn’t have people who had gone to college, and there’s a huge stigma about disabilities. Even now it’s there not much has changed. Like when I go to a social gathering. People generally ask me one question right, who am I? At least 15-20 people will ask me and I say okay, I don’t remember or how sad it is to see you like this. So they just viewed disability as something unfortunate. And one more thing is there were no resources that were available when I was born. And the awareness was not there, because first time everyone was seeing your child with visual impairment. And naturally, first four years for me went in trying to restore my sight, with the hope that I will be able to see again and that was the step any parent will surely take. So the first ray of hope came from Doctor who told my parents that give her good education now that nothing can be done about her eyesight. So this is when my parents started even thinking about educating me and that was a ray of hope for them.
And the second major turning point was once one of my neighbors started following the vehicle, and it took 15 kilometers he did that I’m not sure why he did that. But it took him to one of the charitable institutions for people without, with and without disabilities. And fortunately for me, over there, only one person knew Braille and that’s where my introduction to Braille started. And in this center, it was a vocational training center. It was not the school so they insisted that I study in a blind school in a formal education kind of setting. And then I went to a blind school, and I stayed there in the hostel because it was really far from my village.
And in my school, I started realizing that I really enjoyed math and science. Those days I was not aware of okay, something is not accessible to me and something’s accessible to me. But math was surely my favorite subject even when I was a child. I would count the number of mustard seeds, I would count rice, how much rice I’m eating, I just count the number of rice or I would count the number of oranges that are there everything that I found I just went on counting is what my mom says even I remember slightly.
And in blind school, the typical trend was that everyone kept telling us okay, you finish seventh grade, and naturally, you will take up humanities, because that’s what majority of the blind students were doing. I’ll come to why this is so a little later.
But I really loved math and science and I shifted to a regular school. By then we had shifted to a town for my eighth grade. And in eighth grade, the challenges actually started everything was done on Blackboard. And I couldn’t follow because someone says this multiplied by this is 20. I have no idea what the teacher did. And there were no books that some books were there in Braille, but it had only theoretical content. So digestive system was just a theoretical description without knowing what the diagram looks like. And you can’t study math and science just with this kind of approach without diagrams.
So teachers did not know also how to teach me because they were seeing a blind child for the first time and naturally, they don’t know how to explain trigonometry, or how to explain geometry to me. What tools are available back then even I did not know that technologies were there but some of them I couldn’t afford and others were there but I was not aware that they were there. So I could not use any technology at that stage.
And I’m not going to go into details of what challenges were there in college, but the same challenges continued and I wanted to study science, so I took up computer science. It was fairly new, a visually impaired person trying it out in India. It was a little new for my graduation. And so I didn’t have many people to rely on, especially in a visually impaired community who had done this before. And huge problems were there and the software that was used also was not accessible. So all of these continued, but I stuck on to technology-related subjects till my post graduation and now I am so often my post graduation when I was working with Manohar at Microsoft Research as an intern after that, so me and Professor Amit and Supriya from IIITB. We co-founded an organization called Vision Empower in 2017.
And because my expertise was in this area I wanted to see if we can contribute some way to this area because it was always my passion. I thought about it but I never knew that this will come to reality so soon.
So at Vision Empower, I’ll just mention briefly what we do because I’ve already touched upon what the problems are. So first year, we actually conducted research to see all the problems that I went through are still existing or not. And we found that nothing had changed. Literally, nothing had changed. Everything was the same and so here we are focusing on a holistic approach, not just one technology doesn’t solve everything. So we are focusing on holistic solution. Firstly, we make all the content including diagrams accessible because as I told you content was access to content was always a challenge. And we train the teachers on using our solution and on whatever gaps they may have. We also work with Microsoft Research and computational thinking it’s really an area that has started gaining momentum now so we’re starting early on. And in computational thinking we design games for children and children learn computational thinking through play, and this is really popular. These games are really popular among the children we work with. And we also have a host of technologies and research and IIIT has been a huge support for us research and everything happen at IIIT Bangalore.
So now these are my experiences and I wanted to mention what changes I have seen from the days when I was in school to now. So I finished my 12th grade in 2011. So before that and now what changes are there. So what I have seen from working in the field, I’m going to touch upon them a little bit. Actually, there are huge changes huge. So I’m going to focus on changes in the educational system, not only on technologies because as I mentioned, just one technology doesn’t solve the whole problem unless it is unless the social context in which it is used is also taken care of.
So firstly, the parental involvement with children has increased a lot and that is that’s a huge step. Because now we see at least the children across different states parents are involved with the students. So when I was studying, most of the blind children in my school and in other schools would go home only once in one year or twice, many of the children but now it’s no more the case a lot of children go home, daily and many, even if they cannot if they stay for at least parents keep in touch with the children. So that is huge. And thanks to improved medical care, the number of blind children has reduced in a big way.
So we were starting an early childhood program and we had reached out to government departments and some of the hospitals and everyone told us the same thing that these days there are the number of blind children have reduced because the majority of them were preventable. And they were not being prevented, say a decade and a half back.
And so these days there are very few children who are being detected with visual impairments. Very few as in it has considerably reduced from the time I was in school. And so before the priority before as I was, as I was mentioning, even when I was in school, some parents were very much involved with the students, but a lot of time would go in just getting the materials into an accessible format. But now that OCR and other technologies have improved significantly, we see a lot of parents interested in the holistic growth of children. We also see a lot of children interested in cycling some of them are exploring art some of them are exploring everything that they’re siblings do. And they’re trying out a lot of new things. And this is really good.
And also, the parental involvement for children with multiple disabilities also has increased, at least when I was in school, I would see a lot of these children just being left out and being abandoned by their parents. But now, a lot of effort from the parents is there. Recently I was conducting a quiz and some of the sessions I was involved in, at least in every session we have one child who has other disabilities as well, but the parents are also involved very much in their education and technology progress. I don’t even have to talk about it. It has improved very much.
Children as young as six years know what Alexa is they’re able to get onto calls by themselves. And when we started our digital literacy intervention, I could not even believe that even in the remotest part of the country teachers were able to have an internet connection they were able to connect to zoom I thought in villages nothing much can be done, but this is really not the case. And technology access also has improved in a big way. And also role models among the disabled community have increased people are trying new things and for the younger generation, they have somebody to look forward to.And these parents, some of these parents are also in touch with some of the people with disabilities who have been successful.
And now a lot of organizations have been thinking of making STEM science, technology, engineering, and math accessible to children with visual impairments. At least when I was a child, I knew only one or two organizations in the country thinking about it, but now so many people are thinking about it and I’m sure if all of us work together in five or 10 years we can see huge changes. And I also see a lot of mindset changes among teachers and also in society. When I was studying as I mentioned, human taking up humanities was done on whether you like it or not, but now teachers are really positive. They know that even visually impaired students can study these subjects and even the children themselves know.
So I wanted to also mention a little bit about what I feel can be improved. Again, these are just my perspectives. So I feel that still a lot of the organizations are working in silos. There is some kind of collaborative effort. For example, when we take Sugamya Pustakalya or Bookshare so we have all the books available in a single place, which is really good. And we need the same kind of approach to make STEM education accessible because we know it’s not very easy and we need so many people to come together to work in this area and make the whole education system accessible.
And I also feel that somehow we have ended up copying the you know the concept of accessibility and independence from the west and we are trying to implement it here in Indian sometimes it is not working. So, yesterday I think someone was presenting that in India though people take the visually impaired people to take help from other people. And they still feel independent because in India, everyone is interdependent and they see people hanging out together people traveling together, but that may be very much different in the west the concept of independence. So while designing any technology solution we really need to consider these views as well.
And also, I often feel that everyone is talking about making each and everything accessible, but sometimes I feel that we also need to consider whether making it accessible makes any sense or does it have relevance? For example, one so when we were making our math textbook accessible, so we were teaching plays, we were trying to make the place value concept accessible. So, suppose we take the number 12. So we have to demonstrate we have to explain the concept of place value with the number 12. So in a regular textbook, there were say two apples in the place of units and that is to explain that two is in the unit’s place and say one banana, which was in the 10s place, the children who can see how to see beings and identify how many are there and just to know the concept of place value. So when we copied the same thing what happened is our children who are visually impaired were taking a lot of time just to figure out the shapes so suppose you have eight or nine in one box, then you eight or nine in a square, eight or nine apples or bananas. It takes really a lot of time to even identify the shapes. So we realized that instead of putting two apples we just put two dots. It’s so easy if you just touch you know how many dots are there the concept makes all the difference here and not the apples or bananas or whatever shapes you’re putting inside this square to explain. So it doesn’t literally mean that you have to make each and everything accessible. It also sometimes depends on the context and the relevance.
And the same thing applies to you know, we have this very strong concept that each and everything that say a blind person, a sighted person does even a blind person has to do. I really feel sometimes that also is context-dependent. Because for example, suppose there are only five minutes left and I need to quickly finish my food because all the sighted people are using cutlery to eat the food. I just don’t have to do the same thing because there is no time within I figured out it’s taking too much time. So I’d rather eat the food with my fingers. So I feel even that concept is sometimes context-dependent and we need to inculcate some of those perspectives. Even in the disability, disability communities. We have diverse views, which need to be considered.
And we really need more and more and more affordable technologies. That is really the need of the hour. Because now for example, all the children in the schools that we work with are using something called a Taylor frame for doing their math. I’m sure all the children love it, but I’m sure that can be many better technologies that are much easy to use. And a lot of organizations as I was mentioning should come forward to design these technologies which are really affordable. And we need many more technologies in say areas like making your science lab accessible or making the experiments that are there accessible for all of these we need many more technologies and that will simply make the lives of various people with disabilities much easier.
And also I really feel that aspirations kindling. Aspiration among the children is very much needed because once I went to a 10th-grade class and asked students what do you want to be when you grow up because these children have aspirations, and then all of them were mentioning that they wanted to become IAS officers because now they’re seeing a lot of visually impaired people in these fields, so one day maybe five or 10 years down the line, we’ll have to at least feel that they can also become engineers, doctors if they want to, again, it’s not a compulsion, but at least those who want to they should be, they should at least have the aspiration that they can do it and bringing children to conferences like these, asking their views on what they want, actually helping them meet people who have succeeded. I think that is really important for the children and their families.
And one last thing I wanted to mention is, somehow I feel still there is a kind of charitable mindset within the community and also within people who are providing the solutions. I’m sure that affordability is always an issue but I feel that even if some families can pay a little nominal can pay a nominal, say price for some product or service you offered. So what happens is it’s just in ingrained into the system that everything is given for free and that really I feel sometimes it reduces the self-esteem of the people who are buying it. And also it doesn’t encourage a lot of people to come and work in this area. Just they know that okay, everything has to be done for free and somewhere you have to take care of your needs and your family needs also. So I feel somewhere we need to change this because a lot of parents buy a lot of products and solutions for the children who can see or for their non-disabled children and that same thing should be encouraged for the people with disabilities. So these are some of the changes I really wish to see. Thank you so much.
Dr. Manohar: Thank you, I have one question before we have questions from the audience. During the pandemic, I am familiar with the shock that we all had because most of our work was in person. And so could you just touch upon the work that you had to do to reach out to teachers during the pandemic, getting them online, etc. That will be very useful for the audience. Yeah.
Vidhya: Yeah, so the pandemic was really, we had to think out of the box because till the pandemic we assumed and it was true also that for a blind child, or even if we want to work with a teacher who is visually impaired, touch and feel is really important and without touch and feel you cannot do much, and when it’s all to be done in online setup. So the whole concept of touch and feel is not there. So how would you explain a diagram and how would you even train the teachers? That was a big question. So the team at Vision Empower, all brainstormed our ideas, and we thought okay, we will be starting off with Zoom and other online platforms and we’ll be reaching out to teachers and taking it forward from there. But when we reached out to the teachers, they figured out that most of the teachers were not even using technologies. Some of them were using technologies. But some were they were in the intermediate category and a lot of them were in beginner category, and very few teachers were in the advanced level where the new technologies. So we had to come up with tutorials in different languages on using various applications. So we had one on google meet we had one on Be My Eyes. Most of the people here know what Be My Eyes. It is an app which connects a volunteer with a blind person to speak, you know, to avail assistance online. So these apps we felt will be very useful for the teachers and they might not be aware of such apps so we had to come up with various technology tutorials, first of all, and then once the teachers were comfortable getting on to these conference platforms and everything. So we started off introducing our solutions online. Now again, here also there are a lot of challenges. As I mentioned, touch and feel was not there. And all the all the solutions that we had designed for a school setting did not work here because children were at their homes. So especially with the computational thinking projects that you’re doing with Microsoft research for the games, we had to think of online version of the games. And we also thought about involving their families along with the children during the sessions that we conduct because someone some sighted person who will be around can help and first initially I will I felt okay, many children may not have this support, but the parents also got interested gradually and things are working out fine and we use things that are available at home itself. For example, we play pebble games we just use everything that is available at home in the kitchen. So not nothing costly everything that can be easily availed. We are managing with these and we have for each and every game that we had offline. We have come up with versions online and I think these sessions are going on really well and teachers and parents and everyone’s enjoying.
Dr. Manohar: Thank you there was one question of in the chat from Masaru Joshi BITS Pilani what are some key reasons for relatively low enrollment of persons with disabilities in higher education, especially in STEM in India?
Vidhya: So I really feel higher education it is because they’re not studying math and science at the primary level. As I mentioned, a lot of people are dropping off math and science even before they reach high school because of all the problems that I mentioned. So naturally, when you’re not even done math in science till 12th grade then options are simply ruled out for higher education. That may be one of the reasons and we need to start from school level and only when the children are equipped to do math and science at the school level they will be able to carry on further and some of the people also prefer going abroad because the facilities are available abroad. And they’d rather take advantage of those and some people have done than that. And a lot of people who are visually impaired since birth that finding it really difficult to comprehend what is what even a simple diagram becomes really hard to hard to comprehend, comprehend unless your visual memory is stimulated through you know tactile diagrams or other sensory inputs. The same kind of visual memory should be built-in by the time they reach high school or college so that they can continue the subjects even beyond. So providing tactile inputs from very early on is necessary to make this happen.
Attendee: Good evening, ma’am. I have a question. As you hinted out, just embossing the diagrams in textbooks won’t be the solution. So what according to you could be a possible solution when it comes to diagrams, especially complex diagrams in biology etc.
Vidhya: So right now what we are doing is wherever possible, we are having, as you mentioned, one of the solutions that we have is we are imposing the diagrams into the books itself. So whatever 2D image can be printed in Braille, we are taking advantage of that. But as you also rightly mentioned, that won’t be the only solution. We need a 3D representation 3D models wherever is needed because for me, suppose I touch my face, then I get the proper concept than just touching the 2D image of a human face. I really need to see the 3D model as well as the 2D image at least till I get the concept of that particular diagram. So using whatever is available, the 2D image or even 3D models wherever necessary, is really helpful to develop that kind of visual memory.
Dr. Manohar: Thank you. One last question that was the software that helped you the most while you were studying computer science, question from Anupama Thomas.
Vidhya: While I was studying computer science, software that helped m definitely, I would say screen data because it reads out everything that comes on my screen, but it had its own limitations. But talking about one helpful software I feel that was helpful because at that time, screen readers could not read equations and everything that were available. But for most of my tasks, I used my screen reader and that was really helpful.
Dr. Manohar: Thank you. There are some more questions, but let’s move on to the next talk. And we will come back after Prof. Silvia’s talk and have you both answer some of the questions. Thank you very much, Vidhya.
Vidhya: Thank you and welcome
Dr. Manohar: Now welcome to Professor Silvia Fajardo-Flores. She’s an Associate Professor at the Universidad de Colima, Mexico, and her expertise is in the broad areas of human-computer interaction, digital accessibility, and educational technology for inclusion and she has been working in the area of digital accessibility since 2006. Adapting educational material for blind students and evaluating web accessibility and research about non-visual access to mathematical content for blind users and improving access for people with visual and motor disabilities and more recently, she started research to support literacy development in deaf people. She has a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Paris, and he’s also a member of the ACM accessibility committee. Welcome, Silvia, and over to you.
Silvia: Thank you very much. Thank you for the invitation. It was great to hear Vidhya’s experience. And as you will notice from my talk, there are a lot of things that are similar between you know, amongst the needs of people with disabilities. I would like to share my screen just to show some slides mostly for me, you know. so that I can guide my presentation so, yes, I will be talking about the use of assistive technology in Mexico but not only in Mexico also in Latin America, since we share not just language but also some, I mean the culture and most of the situation of people with different disabilities. So just to give you an idea of the population with disabilities in Mexico, Mexico is the second country with the largest population in Latin America.
We have a total population of 129 million people, of which roughly 5% Have some kind of disability which is equivalent to more than 6 million people. And the disabilities of course are distributed in visual impairment, hearing impairment, cognitive impairment, and according to the reports, the most prevalent disability was low lower limb disability with 48%. Anyway, we have a large let’s say a large disabled population of course, maybe compared to Brazil or to India, which are bigger countries. This number will be less but we have our own our own issues. I’m, I’m going to talk about the access to assistive technologies, but I was thinking, Okay, we, Mexico we and Latin America, we have some degree of access to assistive technologies. But actually, as Vidhya mentioned, there are, let’s say more important or urgent aspects to consider for people with disabilities, for example, the disabled population is practically invisible in Mexican and Latin America. We know from the reports that there are millions of people with disabilities but for example, we rarely see them in schools. We rarely see them stay I see them working in different areas. And that is because they have their inclusion in schools is very, very low is very poor.
Sometimes, even not just people in general, but even their parents are not aware of all the things that their children with disabilities can do and they prefer to you know, they decide just to keep them at home or just to send them to elementary school and they many of them they don’t continue their studies, because there is no support from their parents sometimes and, of course from the government either. So all these causes to have a lack of exposure to assistive technologies.
Mostly, we are consumers of technologies there are very In Mexico there are very few shops for accessible technology. And most of it is very expensive. It’s out of the reach of people. And it’s mostly bought by the government through the Ministry of Education, for example, and for and by some local associations for the disabled. So we’re mostly consumers of the technology. And of course, the government does have some laws that are supposed to cover the needs of people with disabilities, but these laws just look great on paper. But the reality is actually very different. The government doesn’t have enough funding for people with disabilities not just for assistive technologies, but in general for their integration into education and society. So that’s why I was saying that we have more urgent problems not just the access to technology, but all the different integration needs of people with different disabilities. So, basically, what I going to show you maybe these are things that you already know the kind of assistive technology that we use in Latin America is no different from the one that is available maybe worldwide, but we don’t have so much access to them. As I mentioned, it is mainly through the Ministry of Education, and it centers for the support of students with disabilities that people disability have access to this technology they provide, let’s say the accessible materials for children in elementary schools. But after high school, they are they don’t have any organization that provides any kind of support for their education. So they in there in the reports that I could find online and by talking but with people working in this kind of organizations, they told me that they use these kinds of devices for example for hand motor disability, hand motor impairment they use a Panda mouse keyboard switches and the Panda mouse which are you know, used throughout Latin America.
And, for example, talking specifically about embossers which are widely needed, let’s say Mexico, is it’s very rare. It’s very uncommon that someone has that home. They are basically found in the centers for the supportive students are in local associations, which sometimes get some funding from the government or from the general public or from some donations, and that’s how they can get this kind, of technology. Also, some universities and libraries have some software. Basically, it’s just software like screen readers and magnifiers and other types of applications mainly for people with blindness. But fortunately, smartphone use is growing all over Latin America and that’s why people with disabilities have more possibilities of accessing content and therefore, of accessing education and in the later on the workforce but basically, these are these technologies are used everywhere in Latin America.
Now let me just mention some of the things that they use. I already mentioned the screen readers for visual impairment the magnifiers in the braille embossers. Braille continues to be the preferred format to access information in Mexican in general in Latin America, and it’s followed by audio and large print. And there are some applications that are well known in the visually impaired population in Latin America like IDPro which I just noticed, I didn’t know that is an Indian development, and also some local developments like Lazarillo GPS, so that is for the visual impairment.
For the hand motor impairment, I already mentioned, the keyboard switches and adaptive keyboard, and some people use eye-tracking devices, but actually, I don’t know many people who use this kind of device. What is being used for most by most people with hand motor impairment are the voice interfaces most of them user phones, the voice commands on their phones, to access applications and other assistive technologies that they use are for example augmentative and alternative communication devices, which can be available in the form of physical like hardware devices.
But they can also be applications on the mobile phone or on tablets, you know, to enhance communications. But as you may have noticed, I haven’t mentioned anything for people who are deaf, because I couldn’t find any I mean, I know that that for them. They’re the main language, their main language is sign language. And I think it’s it’s awesome that you have sign language interpreters in this event. In Mexico and Latin America, interpreters are very, very few. I mean, there are not many and they don’t usually participate in events so that deaf people have access to this kind of information for them.
Mostly, the only accessibility consideration that is made is the captions. However, I don’t know what the situation is in India, but in Mexican and Latin America. The reading comprehension of Spanish languages from the Spanish language is very, very poor. And it’s, I mean, of course, it’s a second language. Learning a second language already has its difficulties. But another, I think, the more serious problem is that deaf people have not had enough exposure to the Spanish language. And that is one of the main consequences of not being able to read in Spanish. So captions of course they’re better than nothing. It is better to have captions, but definitely, it shouldn’t be assumed that people with deafness are going to understand what they are reading.
So I wanted to talk very briefly about some of the local developments in Mexico and other countries in Latin America, they are not many healthcare, I will just mention a few. Like I mentioned, mostly we consume the technology that is already there, that already exists. But in Mexico we can find this for visually impaired people. We have this bracelet which is called a Sunu Band, and it’s a commercial product already. It detects objects up to five and a half meters away. It works like sonar, and it informs the distance to the obstacles using haptic vibration. According to its creators, it’s being used by more than 5000 people in more than 45 countries.
Personally, I don’t I have never seen this product being used by people with deafness, but I don’t know I There must be people who use it and another local development that I found was a brain-computer interface for Neuro rehab from the National Institute for Rehabilitation, but I couldn’t find I found this in some reports and some documentation but I couldn’t find any actual image let’s say of this interface. I don’t know what it is about. And that that’s all that I could that I can mention about developments in Mexico.
In Colombia, I found that they don’t actually have any local development. I mean, at least I couldn’t find any doesn’t mean that they don’t have any.
But I found that in their country, the government provides access to the screen reader like JAWS, and they bought some licenses for JAWS and the magic magnifier. And they are availabilities in libraries, and in electronic kiosks where people can go and look for some services for some government services available online. And also they have local organizations there is this one called a Ayudas para todos which means support for all which provides some tips for accessing low-cost assistive technologies and I’m not talking about electronic devices or things like that but to more basic products such as the slates.
The slates for for writing Braille, are difficult to find in Colombia according to this organization. So they provide some low-cost 3D printing of sleds from the models that they find on the internet. So as you notice, it’s we’re not even talking about access to technological devices but to more basic devices. Which are not available for people with disabilities. That was in Colombia.
In Brazil, they do have I mean, apart from using the technologies that I already mentioned, they do have a local development is a software called Hand Talk, which is an avatar that converts voice and text also into the Brazilian sign language, which is called Libras. This avatar can be used on mobile phones and the web I mean on computers, and it’s called Hugo the character is called Hugo and Hugo will translate the from the Brazilian language to the Brazilian sign language. And I think that this is a great development but actually talking with people who work with Deaf people, other people who work with Deaf people. I noticed that not all of them are so excited about this kind of development. But anyway, this is something that has been developed in Brazil for deaf people.
And then in Chile, we have this application which is like a GPS is called Lazarillo GPS, which provides nonvisual navigation to basic places, for example, to hospitals to restaurants to banks or museums, and it provides detailed descriptions of the public transport. That is why this last bit about public transport is also used actually for people, not just blind people, but also for people who use a wheelchair in order to find accessible routes. Because I don’t know what the situation is in your country. But in most countries in Latin America, the roads are not accessible to people using wheelchairs. So it’s important for them to find the routes that will be accessible for them to reach different places. This application has more than 160,000 users across Latin America. It’s a well-known application and people in Mexico also use it. So that is in Chile.
So I would like to mention some quickly some research and development opportunities. And of course, I think that like I mentioned before, our collaboration shouldn’t be just in developing the accessible technologies but also in ways of supporting the integration of people with disabilities in schools, mainly in schools and in society in general so that they become more visible and so that people know that the type of disability that they have does not prevent them from studying that does not prevent them from working in different areas.
Even like they mentioned before in areas of science and technologies. And it doesn’t mean that the words that they do now are not honorable, of course, but many of them many of the people who are doing, for example, jobs in cleaning or driving, they really want to study and they but they don’t have enough access. So they didn’t. This goes without saying we need low-cost assistive technology because of the lack, of funding. And, but not only that, but also I think that more research and development is needed for people with multiple disabilities. Like right now, there are applications and devices for people who are blind, or for people who have hand motor impairment. But what about people who have both impairments? I know some people who are blind and have a motor disability and you have no idea of how difficult it is for them to access content even to use their mobile phones or computers. It’s really difficult because of the usually accessible adjustments in the configuration of smartphones.
They don’t consider that people can have both disabilities. For example, if you’re blind, you can use a screen reader but you need to use your hands in order to interact. But people with high motor impairment might not be able to do these gestures might not be able to even to to hold the phone. So for them of course the voice interfaces are the most appropriate. But anyway, what I mean is that more research more development is needed for people would have to have multiple disabilities and also in order to improve the communication between people with and without hearing impairment because we use different communication codes or different languages basically. And lastly, I would like to say that it’s important to work with people with disabilities and not just for this for them, because in the area of technology. If we don’t work closely with people with disabilities, we may have good intentions I’m sure people working in technology has good into have good intentions in providing assistive technologies for people with disabilities but if we don’t work with them if we don’t get to know their needs and their characteristics closely, we will not provide adequate solutions.
I have seen these I have seen this. Some people who work in technology think it’s a great idea, you know to provide this kind of assistive technology for people with disabilities but they will disability are not able to use it or they openly reject it. And that is why I think that a close collaboration is needed not just amongst researchers from the global south. But also they are complete, as a higher inclusion of people with different disabilities in the technology-related development. And I would like to close with that. Thank you very much.
Dr. Manohar: Thank you very much Silvia. I have one question before we open for the audience. In India, for example, children who are blind, the vast majority of them who go to schools go to schools for the blind. Very few attend school integrated schools. So how is it in Mexico? Are there special schools or is the majority going to integrate schools are both?
Prof Silvia: There are both. They can go, for example, blind people can go to schools for the blind, but actually, the characteristics of the schools is that they are not particular of one single disability, for example, there are schools where they are students who are blind and who are deaf and who have different kinds of disabilities. And the attention is not necessarily particular to the kind of disability that they have. But they may attend on one side they attend special schools, but actually, the government for many years has tried to include students with disabilities into the mainstream schools. This has been only partially successful because, for example, a blind student attending elementary school. They are able to communicate they are able to move around the schools and to socialize with their classmates. But usually, their study materials arrive late. For example, everyone gets their textbooks at the beginning of the school year. But the children who are blind don’t get it at the same time. They get it I don’t know, three months, even six months later, so they are they don’t have the material to study.
Fortunately, the technologies can provide good assistance in this matter. So they have both now, for people for children who are deaf the situation is a lot more complicated they actually have to go to schools for the deaf but these schools do not provide formal education because they have several different grades in one single classroom. And they sometimes when they go to school there are children and teenagers and adults also, even adults, which are who are already working, they go to school, but just to learn Spanish to learn how to read and write in Spanish. And so their education is not formal. And for the people that deaf deaf children who are integrated in schools or are included in schools. This situation is even more difficult because first of all, they suffer reject rejection in schools. They go like the parents go with their kids and they talk to the principals of the school and the principal says no, we don’t have sign language interpreters we don’t have we cannot provide for your kid. Even though there are the centers for what are they called, you know, which provide materials for people with different disabilities. For deaf people. It’s very difficult to integrate them. I remember I read something I liked it very much. In it said we are talking about the inclusion of Deaf students in mainstream schools but what is more inclusive, to have someone who is deaf in an environment of speaking people and not providing for their needs like who are not able to communicate with them, or just to socialize with other deaf people in special education. So what’s more inclusive?
I think we’re not there yet. We’re not there yet.
Dr. Manohar: Yeah, I think I have Professor Bala here. lease go ahead.
Prof Bala: Yeah, so in terms of the visually impaired children how popular is Braille and along with it is a question how much access to tactile material is there for the blind children?
Prof Silvia: Braille is still widely used. I mean, in both things is still needed in schools, especially in elementary schools. I mean, I know that blind people use screen readers and on their smartphones or on the computer but Braille is still the main form like the preferred format for accessing information so Braille is going to continue to be. In tactile displays, we don’t I mean, people in Mexico and in general Latin America do not really have access to that kind of technology. Tactile diagrams, that yes, some of the these centers that I mentioned the front from the Ministry of Education, they have embossing machines for tactile diagrams and maps. They do use this kind of technology but there is like one in a for example, in Colima state we In Mexico there are 31 states. Colima is one of the smallest maybe there are one or two of these machines to provide for all the state I don’t know if I answer your question. Yes. Yeah.
Dr. Manohar: Bala I think you should probably connect offline. Prof Bala has a startup, which has now grown called Raceline Foundation, which is doing immensely wonderful work in providing tactile diagrams. It enables to bring down the cost of printing tactile material, that now blind children are getting textbooks which have all the figures and diagrams and tactile diagrams in place. That’s remarkable change over the last several years and I’m sure it will be great for you to connect, Bala.
Prof Bala: We will send you some samples and get back to you
Dr. Manohar: That’d be very, very useful. I think there are many opportunities, I think, for building bridges and I look forward to interacting with you Sylvia beyond the conference. This is just the beginning. And so thank you so much for being with us. And we will I think if there are any other questions we we can have one more question if anyone has otherwise, I think we need to move to the paper presentation session. Thank you so much.
Alright, so we have a two short papers in the session. The first short paper is designing a tactile display for Braille and non Braille users. This is by Anupama Thomas and Elizabeth Rufus. I think Anupama is here, the timing is 10 minutes please restrict yourself to 10 so that we can keep the time. And the audience please chat, type in your questions in the chat and I will forward it as appropriate. Go ahead Anupama
Anupama: Good evening everyone. And I’m going to present my work on designing a tactile display for Braille and non-Braille users. So this work was done in VIT and continues now in IIT Madras. So, this is very familiar that claim of support for blind and finger one and two shows the pattern of raised or lowered dots which depict English, the English alphabet here figure three also shows different race forms that were used as early as the mid 1800s. And out of these raised forms, these were for people who didn’t know braille, the moon stripe was the most common.
So when we design a tactile display the two features we must keep in mind are that there is a sliding movement between the text and the reading finger and there is also active hand movement that occurs as text is read. And depending on whether the person is a early reader or a mid level learner they use maybe a single finger or many fingers to run over letters. So what how does the person access information from the computer? What is most commonly used for screen readers? And then they have tactile displays, but the high cost as we see in figure 536 Max Braille me in India, with the 27th single line displays is 42,000. Perhaps the high cost of these braille displays prevent people from learning braille, and in fact percentage-wise, they say that only 10% of children actually are learning braille. And this can be due to the high cost of braille displays. Now, this is a tactile display that was very commonly used. This is for people who did not know braille, this was the Octagon when printed text was converted to a vibrating tactile image. It was widely used but was discontinued because of company issues.
So the objectives of our design were that the design should allow a sliding movement between the finger pad of the user and the text to increase accuracy. And we wanted it to be adaptable for use by non-blind users also, and there was a need to make it cost effective using the minimum number of actuators. So in our design, we just used the single actuator and we had the touchable and most of this, so we have a Braille for people who knew Braille. And for those who didn’t, we have the nine-letter or the dotted letter to see which was more tangible for users. So in our Braille and embossed disk, after many iterations, we put 13 characters and embossed around the circumference of the disk, every 28.8 degrees, the thickness of the disk was 10 millimeters so that they could place the finger leading finger comfortably, and the dot extrusion was taken as one mm which is just point one mm higher than standard plain specifications because that was required by the 3 d printer. Now for the lined letter this we embossed again English characters along the circumference, but we chose uppercase as literature said that uppercase was more tangible and lowercase. We chose a letter size of nine mm because again literature said that letters between the size of eight and 11 mm are tangible. So again, we had and we use the Font Calibri size 34 to emboss, nine letters on the disk. Similarly, we had a dotted letter this and we mentioned the two-point discrimination threshold of two to four mm on the fingertip, in the design of the letters and ever again. They were extruded by one millimeter.
So this is what our prototype looked like. We have the electronics housed within the enclosure so that the user could place the hand on it comfortably while my reading finger was placed on the rotating disk.
Now, these are the specifications of a prototype in comparison to what was generally required of braille displays. We were able to maintain most of the braille or dimensions, except maybe the letter height which is one mm as required by the 3D printer. Now, the fresh frequency refers to how fast letters come up between beneath the user’s finger and they say 10 hertz is needed for most applications. Well, one hertz is can be used for applications with less interactions. So our design introduced to bearing refresh rates between two hertz to 32 hertz and the weight of the each desk was about 12 grams. The weight of the enclosure without this was 120 grams.
So what would it take to read with our design? So if you look at this word “HOOK” between the appearance of H and O it took 32 milliseconds between O and O, that is a full rotation of the disc bringing with this, the letter O right back underneath the user’s finger was 400 milliseconds between O and K was again 120 milliseconds. So our question was, would readers be able to read accurately with these bearings refresh things? And the second question was, between the appearance of each and all beneath the user’s finger, there were other letters and brushed past the leading finger. We call them nonsensical letters. Now would these nonsensical letters hinder, leading accurately so there were two questions here, And if it didn’t work out, you’d have to scrap the design. So here was our evaluation with participants who were blind Braille participants. We had 17 participants and we sent them 24 words that were given as two letter, three-letter, four-letter, five-letter words presented in two sessions. And here we use the Braille emboss disk, and we compare that reading with similar words printed on paper Braille. So the comparison is how they read on paper Braille versus how they read on a prototype. The parameters measured the accuracy that as a percentage of correct responses, and we looked at their session speed. These are the results of accuracy with our 17 Blind brain participants? And here, in an easier format, we had a percentage accuracy of 96.15 on paper braille, and with session two of the prototype, it was 98.62 and the outcome of our results showed that actually accuracy of reading with refresh rates was similar to that of reading on the paper brain when we did a paired t-test, indicating that varying refresh rates and the passing of non-sensitive matters beneath the finger pad did not impede reading. So this suggested that our design was feasible.
We moved on to testing with blindfolded sighted users and blind non Braille participants. And both these groups retain a visual memory of the alphabet, whereas blind non Braille participants have an added advantage of the increased tactile experience. So over here, we have the training protocol included a training session because they were not used to reading by touch. Some of them are just used to screen readers and the blindfolded sight had very limited tactile experience. So in this evaluation, we had a training session, and we use the mind and dotted emboss discs are the parameters we measured here were how many training sessions were needed, the percentage accuracy in reading words and their session speed. So these are our results about 10 Blindfolded sighted participants, using both the distal dotted disc and the line disc we wanted to see if there was a difference in perception. And here for the blindfolded sighted participants, they took one to two sessions and they achieved word accuracy of 90%. Similar to both the dotted disc and the line disc So what was the outcome of our evaluation with them? The accuracy was high at 90%. When we compare this to previous literature, we found that there was a decrease in training time for tactile reading from nine months in this paper by Bola at all to 20 minutes for blindfolded sighted participants to achieve a tactile reading speed of six to seven words per minute. So there was a decrease in training time because we banked on that visual imagery, the memory that they have.
Then we moved on to testing with 12 Blind non brain participants, again, the number of training sessions and how they read on the dotted disk and the line this and here they just needed one session because of their increased tactile experience. Their word accuracy, for both of them, was over using the doctor disk and the line this goes over 96% And what was our outcome? The accuracy was high the training time further reduced to a single session and there was no significant difference when using both the discs. So either this could be used in the prototype. So in case people are wondering what words were presented, these are the words that could be presented with a few characters that were embossed on this and this is a cost involved in the prototype. So this is like it can be modified for like blind or for early blind, early blind who know Braille and the late blind who do not know well. Our cost for the prototype was 4716. The full paper is available at Technology and Disability. And this work was funded previously in VIT and is currently now an IIT Madras by the Department of science and technology government. I want to thank you for your time.
Dr. Manohar: Thank you Anupama. I think in the interest of time, let the questions be on chat. I will put a question in the chat let’s move to the second talk which is the paper on empowering persons with special needs during examinations by Sanjay Mukherjee & Charudatta Jadhav. Request to the attendees please type in your questions on chat and I request the authors to respond to chat as you can. Thank you so much.
Sanjay: Good evening. Manohar Sir. Good evening, everyone. Good evening, the organizers, the participants, the panelists, the speakers. So thank you so much, once again for the opportunity. The topic on which I would like to take a few moments of everyone is empowering persons with special needs during examinations. The reason why I picked up this topic and what we are doing I come from TCS and TCS Ion, which is a strategic business unit of TCS. We are primarily providing cloud-based solutions to the industry. We SMB, no small business units, or manufacturing, and also education. I’m from the education with I’m actually managing the school education business. So TCS is known as the largest, you know, high stake examination enabler and we conduct you know, round the year examinations, be it CAT, be it JIMER, be it banking services. So, as of today, while I’m talking we have already assessed about 140 million candidates to date across various centers we are present in all the districts of the country. However, why we have been doing this?
We always are, you know, looking at how we can, you know, make a creative impact in the society. And we have been observing over the last so many years that when we talk about examinations, only students are coming into our test centers, giving the examinations and going back, but we have seen very little presence or practically no presence of our candidates who are children with no special needs. Particularly, you know, when we talk about, you know, the 21 different categories, which has been categorized as for the RPWD Act, we wanted to, you know, look at, you know, how we could enable and how we could make ourselves as an inclusive assessment enabler and hence, this led us to, you know, be discussing with various institutions with various directly impacted, you know, candidates.
Also, you know, the families have such children that, what are the typical challenges that candidate faces when they sit in any kind of a high stakes examinations, and what are the challenges that institutions are facing when they have to actually allow such CWSN to sit in a kind of an examination. So, we this solution that we are discussing today, it’s primarily it’s for the institution’s for examination boards, and higher education to empower and enable children with special needs particularly, we have piloted and tested it for deaf and hard of hearing and also for visual impaired candidates. So, when we were actually you know, talking about talking with various, you know, doing our surveys doing the research with the institutions and also such as the one of the major challenge, which was actually highlighted by such children and also their parents was the first thing is that the moment a date sheet is declared.
The challenge starts from that particular day for the child and for the family for arranging a scribe or an interpreter for their child. Who’s going to appear in say five or six different exams for five or six different papers during this exam cycle. Now, one is identifying. The second is working with that stripe and interpreter. The third is ensuring that that scribe interpreter is available on all those exam days. So it’s a kind of humongous challenge, which children and also their families have been facing. And maybe most of the time what happens is the child actually loses out on that exam day when the interpreter of the Scribe is not available. Now, while the institutions also provide the interpreter on that exam day but there is always a kind of a comfort level which you know, kind of creeps up when you have practice with a specific interpreter or a scribe while preparing for the examinations. So, these multifold challenges which we could analyze basis, the discussions with the various you know, the stakeholders, so, these are some of so not only the child has to register himself or herself for for for the examination. They also need to register the Skype or the interpreter during that examination. The hall ticket also has the details of the scribe on the interpreter. So assuming a situation wherein the child reaches the examination center, but the interpreter of the Scribe is not there. So it’s a kind of a chaotic situation, which many of the, you know, the interviewed either shared with us and the institution.
There’s always this thing that comes up whether the interpretation of the question has been right or wrong, and whether the response that has been submitted is right or wrong. This also is a question which, you know, the interview children shared. Okay, so students saw the major challenges which were actually back of our district and we started looking at how we could enable such children. Now, on top of this, the second aspect that we also looked at is that there are you know, if you look at the demography, if you look at the geography, the widespread, you know, there across many centers there in tier two cities, three cities, tier four, tier-three cities a lot creating an infrastructure, okay, kind of infrastructure for, you know, as an availability of such children for taking coming and taking the exam is an issue. So, we also had to look at how we could create on the go infrastructure, when, you know, when an examination is being conducted, and the examination body says that, okay, we are going to have 5000 CWSN children who are going to sit in exams across 734 districts, so ramping up the infrastructure was also one of the things that we actually looked into.
Now, I’m just sharing this thing, getting the technology why we actually use this for you know, in conducting such examination for CWSN. And the very important thing is that if you look at you know, the so many tablets, which are lying there these are TCS Ion paper device, these are being used for conducting high stakes examinations, these are being used for distributing question papers on the go. The very important thing is that this during the course of the examination of three and a half hours, this does not have any internet connectivity, the internet connectivity is required only at the time of downloading the question paper and uploading the response okay. So, this is kind of a business as usual, which we have been doing so the objective was that you know, how we could more make it more robust and powerful to enable deaf or hard of hearing child, okay to independently sit in an examination without being dependent on any third person. Now, this was actually, you know, tried.
You know, the Deaf Society is a renowned Deaf Society all of you would know. And we conducted a mock assessment with their deaf students. And this is what was the feedback that we received from them was that this is a kind of technology that would help them you know, reducing the kind of time that goes in for doing a kind of a face-to-face assessment of a deaf child. Now, a very, the testimonial itself says that, if they have to do an assessment, they have got so many hundreds of students who are there and if they have to do an assessment of the students then the the instructor the who themselves are deaf and hard of hearing, they have to do a kind of a face to face, you know, interaction with the candidates and with the examination.
Thank you so much.
Dr. Manohar: So, my question is, you’ve done some trials, but have you what exam level are you targeting for the hard of hearing individuals?
Sanjay: So we have already piloted this with Deaf Society we have already piloted with an open school institution in India and the solution the severe using this for conducting all assessments, okay. So, whether it is you know, a pen-paper whether it is you know, the question papers are no more printed by us. The question papers are handed over as a tablet which is given to each and every candidate, and they see through the question paper and write on an answer response sheet. That response sheet gets scanned by us using the same tablet and it’s uploaded onto the cloud. That’s one second thing is that
Dr. Manohar: I was asking what actual exam are you targeting? First to run it in a real exam? Which exam are you targeting? Because these pilots are good to prove that it works, but which exam are you targeting?
Sanjay: So that is still in this discussion with the institution. So most probably what they’re going to do is that they are going to, you know it during their board examinations, they are going to be using this solution on a trial basis for primarily for you know, their CWSN candidates, those who are hard of hearing and also those who are visually impaired.
Dr. Manohar: So thank you very much for the presenters. And again, thanks very much to Vidhya and Sylvia. Oh, there’s one last question maybe for the session and the day is a long day. So Ashutosh, can you make a brief question, please.
Ashutosh: Sorry, I don’t have a brief question. I am a late blind. Could you please tell me what your device does?
Sanjay: Yes, Ashutosh I will surely do that. So, this paper is primarily for exam conduction that we are currently using. This also is being used for learning purposes, both online and offline learning. And this device enables institutions to conduct both online exams and also offline exams, even OMR-based exams, and even audio-based questions are being done with the audio-based response also getting submitted, and also video-based questions with a video-based response submission capability.
Ashutosh: So can I get from you after the session?
Sanjay: Oh, well, in fact, we are actually working with the institutions Ashutosh. So, this is primarily for the institutions and also the examination boards. At the at the at the moment. what definitely we can discuss is that you know how we can have a kind of trial with you as well separately. You can connect with me on my phone, and if we can discuss this further.
Ashutosh: Please give me your phone number.
Dr. Manohar: I’ll get an email id maybe that will be useful to start with and so thank you very much for everyone’s participation. I hand it back to Amit.
Prof Amit: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Manohar. Thank you to all the speakers and to all the paper presenters. Thank you very much. I know this is quite late here quite early for you for Dr. Manohar and Sylvia. But it has been a good day, a productive day, I would say. Very interesting presentations. All through the sessions. Thank you, everyone, for staying back. We hope to see you again tomorrow morning at 9:30 am. And again, we have very interesting sessions planned.