In a first, the Ministry of Science and Technology has come up with a comprehensive Braille atlas for nearly 50 lakh visually challenged people in the country, especially students.
The atlas has 20 maps on different themes like physical, socio-economic, river system, crops pattern, natural vegetation, cultural, metropolitan areas, roads and railways, and crops.
Developed in Hindi and English by the National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO), Kolkata, an institute under the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Braille atlas has been made using indigenously developed silk-screen painting technology.
“This is for the first time that a comprehensive atlas has been prepared for physically challenged with such minute details,” Director of NATMO, Tapti Banerjee, said.
The maps are well embossed with simple lines and point symbols to facilitate its users realise the location. The area coverage is easily distinguishable in terms of shapes and textures.
Each atlas costs nearly Rs 600.
“But we intend to give a couple of free copies to institutes teaching visually impaired students,” Union Minister for Science and Technology, Harsh Vardhan, said.
Aniruddha Bhattacharya, scientific officer with NATMO and Amitava Chakraborty and Devnath Sengupta, research officers, played a key role in preparing the atlas. Bhattarcharya passed away last month.
For its initiative, NATMO was awarded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this year’s Indian Science Congress held at Tirupati.
“This atlas is way better than the maps we currently use. It is very reader friendly for visually impaired students,” said Amit Sharma, a geography teacher with the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun.
He, however, pointed out that there are some minor drawbacks in the maps, which have been conveyed to NATMO.
Saurabh Prasad (15), a Class X student at NIVH, said borders of the states need to be more clearer, but overall he is happy as the atlas is more “reader friendly”.
Although bulky and measuring a little more than A3 size, the NATMO is also working to lessen the size.
“The development of atlas will be an on-going process,” Vardhan said.
“But something is better than nothing,” quipped Jagmohan Sahai, another 16-year old visually impaired student of NIHV.
NATMO has also prepared Braille maps for West Bengal and Meghalaya in Bengali and English respectively. They have also been asked by the governments of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Gujarat to come up with state maps in English and their regional languages.
The concept of Braille maps took root in the country in 1900s and the first such map was made in 1997.