Like many children her age, every weekend, when Sadhna Ghegdanad goes to her Ulhasnagar home from her boarding school in Mumbai, she spends hours glued to her iPod.
However, the 15-year-old does not use the device to listen to the latest chartbusters. Instead, she listens to a recorded version of her school textbooks. Ghegdanad, who is partially blind, is a Class 10 student of Kamla Mehta Dadar School for the Blind. Seven of her classmates, in a batch of 16 with different degrees of visual impairment, use the iPod to study.
“Earlier, I had to sit before a computer, which has a software that reads the text aloud. With the iPod, I can walk around freely,” said Ghegdanad, who is preparing for her SSC exams and aspires to become a doctor.
The iPod, a portable media player, is a technical advancement over tape recorders and Mp3 recorders. Visually impaired students use these to do away with the hassle of finding a reader to read aloud to them or depend on bulky Braille books.
“Many students have applied to us to purchase iPods. We will send these to the National Association for the Blind, which offers a concession on the purchase of iPods and Mp3 recorders,” said Nikita Patil, a computer teacher at Kamla Mehta Dadar School for the Blind.
Last year, the NAB distributed 145 iPods and Mp3 players among visually impaired students. While those belonging to below poverty line families got it for free, others purchased them at concessional rates.
The Dadar school is also using other software and technology as teaching aids for visually impaired. “Recently, we installed the Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) software, which reads on-screen content aloud. It also has the option of translating the content into vernacular languages such as Hindi, Marathi and Tamil, which makes it more useful to students here,” said Patil.
Special schools for children with hearing impairments are also using technology to improve teaching standards. “The induction loop technology we use in our language room helps reduce the noise ratio, so the teacher’s voice through the microphone can reach students’ hearing aids clearly. This improves the speech and listening ability of children,” said Gayatri Ahuja, co-ordinator at the Hellen Keller Institute for Deaf and Deaf Blind.
Jimesh Chawla, 14, a Class 7 student of Don Bosco High School, Matunga, who has partial hearing impairment, has found a software to improve his speech. The Dr Speech software analyses his speech and gives comprehensive audio-visual feedback and compares the defected speech with normal speech. “The software has helped him to speak clearly and do well in class,” said Jimesh’s mother, Harsha Chawla.
Technological improvements have ensured that those with different disabilities can find aids suited to their individual needs. “Once provided with an aid, the child should be spoken to like someone with normal hearing instead of using broken sentences or sign language,” said Devangi Dalal, Jimesh’s audiologist.