Anand Mahindra-backed start-up Thinkerbell Labs, which builds literacy devices for the visually impaired, is on a mission to solve the problem of low literacy and employability among visually impaired people. This Bengaluru-based start-up has built the first learning ecosystem for the visually impaired which consists of Annie—a smart device for self-learning Braille, software for monitoring user progress and interactive content. The start-up has been recognised by Startup India and recently launched its product in India and the UK.
Recently, Indian Angel Network and Thinkerbell Labs in association with the government of Jharkhand installed 20 Braille-teaching devices in a government blind school in Ranchi. This installation in Ranchi is aimed at bringing cutting edge technology to improve learning outcomes for K-12 visually impaired children.
Thinkerbell Labs’ flagship product, Annie, helps in early schooling of visually impaired users via gamified audio lessons over a Braille-based hardware. It uses a mobile app which acts as an interface between the user and the Raspberry Pi based Braille-hardware using speech recognition.
Company officials informed that Ranchi is now home to the first smart class for the visually impaired in the country. The devices were installed a fortnight ago and teaches the children Hindi Braille and English Braille, through Hindi as the medium of instruction. Annie has been received with great enthusiasm and fervour by the students, teachers and school administration. The interactive audio-tactile content has reinvigorated their interest in learning Braille and has introduced them to the concept of self-learning which is completely missing in Braille education.
In a formal event, the smart class equipped with Annie devices was inaugurated by Louis Marandi, minister of minority and social welfare, Jharkhand. Also in attendance were Satish Chandra, disability commissioner and Rai Mahimapat Ray, deputy commissioner, Ranchi.
“It has been an excellent experience working with the Jharkhand government,” said Sanskriti Dawle, CEO of Thinkerbell Labs. “It is very encouraging to work with bureaucrats who are innovative, forward-thinking and make it easy for budding social enterprises like us to make a positive impact at such a scale. We are actively looking to replicate this solution with change-makers across the country who are willing to use technology to catalyse the growth of inclusive education in the country,” he said.
Braille literacy rates have been correlated to employability rates amongst the visually impaired. The problem of low literacy of Braille is a global one and has far reaching implications on the economy of a country. Global superpowers like the US and the UK are scrambling to solve this crisis. Annie has been developed with constant feedback and inputs from the Royal National Institute of the Blind, UK and recognised by the DIT, government of UK as a game-changing innovation.
Braille literacy rate in India is less than 1% and it is high time India started acting on this problem. The Annie ecosystem provides a comprehensive solution to make a dent on this problem. The device comes with gamified content which makes self-learning easier and connectivity which allows user progress to be tracked by teachers, parents and other key government stakeholders via an intuitive dashboard. The content can be easily localised to any language and dialect, making the solution truly global.