What began as a one-time project of setting up a smart class in a school for the visually impaired in March last year turned out to become a passion for the members of RC Pune Metro, RID 3131. “We are looking for more such schools to transform their classrooms into smart class with the device called Annie — an innovative technology-based solution for helping visually challenged students to learn reading and typing in Braille,” says club president Makarand Phadke.
Last year just before the lockdown was imposed the club set up this innovative facility for teaching Braille to 135 students at the Jagriti Blind Girls School at Alandi near Pune. Phadke recalls the expression of joy overflowing from the faces of the students. “The experience was both successful and rewarding and our club decided to look for opportunities to set up similar facilities in other schools.”
About the device Annie he says that it is the world’s first digital Braille teaching device named after Helen Keller’s teacher Ann Sullivan. “As many of us know, Braille is the universally accepted script with letters made up of raised dots, which blind people can feel with their fingers and read.” Developed by Thinkerbell Labs, Bengaluru, these devices have been installed in learning centres and schools for the blind in partnership with the government, voluntary organisations and progressive schools.
“When we found out about a school at Bhosari, near Pune run by Patashibai Ratanchand Manav Kalyan Trust for visually-impaired boys we visited the school and discovered that the trust not only provides education for the boys but also boarding, lodging, uniforms, games and sports facilities, computer training and laundry facilities.” What was more heartening, says Phadke, was the warm welcome by the school’s principal Pandurang Salunkhe. “Sightless himself, he was happy about the idea of the smart class. He said that it would help the 100 students enrolled in their school.”
Many of the school’s alumni have earned graduation degrees and were working in government offices, banks and other organisations.
The club set up a smart class with 10 devices at the school. “Each device costs `64,000 and with the efforts of project convenor Shobhana Paranjpye, Rtn Varsha Dawle and the Annie Smart Class team, who worked tirelessly for nearly six-months during the lockdown to plan and complete the project, we could raise the funds for the devices,” beams the president.
While the school agreed to fund for two devices, RC Shivajinagar sponsored one. The smart class was inaugurated by DGE Pankaj Shah, along with Shantilal Lunkad, chairman of the school’s trust and a charter member of RC Poona. At the inauguration Saif Sheikh, one of the creators of the Annie devices at Thinkerbell Labs, encouraged the students to talk about their experience of using the device.