1. Executive Summary
Vision Empower is a trust incubated in 2017 at IIITB Innovation Center, Bangalore. In India, students with blindness have been denied the possibility of Science education and careers due to various factors. Prime among these, has been the lack of awareness in the education system about the capabilities of persons with visual impairment and the need for an inclusive pedagogic approach.
The OBJECTIVE of Vision Empower is to make Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education accessible to students with visual impairment, irrespective of their socio economic status.
After being incorporated in October 2017, with initial critical support from Wipro Foundation, Vision Empower focused on the challenges of studying Science and Mathematics by students with visual impairments of Grades 4-6 in schools for visually impaired in Karnataka. The activities have been executed in three broad phases -
- Research phase (October 2017– March 2018),
- Pilot phase (April 2018 – March 2019) and
- Implementation phase (April 2019 onwards)
The RESEARCH PHASE executed by the founders was critical for Vision Empower to understand the ground realities before designing solutions. The research activities were broadly through interactions and interventions with schools, resource providers of visually impaired persons, technology labs working on assistive technology in India, technology firms creating solutions for visually impaired persons. Based on the outcome of the research, visually impaired children of 5th grade from one school were provided specially created sample accessible content for Science and Math and experiential ways of learning these subjects. This was intended to develop the pedagogic approach towards STEM education for persons with visual impairment. Anubhav is now an annual event which helps VE in gathering inputs from the community and plan critical future interventions. Important collaborations with XRCVC, Assistech Labs and IStem were created to work on common objectives.
Anubhav is now an annual event which helps VE in gathering inputs from the community and plan critical future interventions.
In the next academic year, with two additional core team members, a PILOT INTERVENTION was executed by Vision Empower at Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind (SRMAB) for Grade 5 in partnership with select partners, such as Canara Bank Welfare Association - Matruchhaya, Vividha Trust and Mitrajyothi in the academic year 2018-19. Vision Empower and Matruchhaya created Science and Math books for all students in the class and their teachers. Tactile diagrams and models were also provided to the school. Recognizing the need to support the teachers in teaching Science and Mathematics, Vision Empower designed a Teacher Training Program which included special skills such as Nemeth code. Three trimester-wise Pragya Teacher Training workshops for Science and Math Teachers of three schools were organized in June 2018, September 2018 and February 2019. Based on the learning from the above initiatives, Vision Empower created a Content Management Process for development of accessible Science and Mathematics text book content for visually impaired students. The volunteer program Ananda was launched in July 2018 to provide after-school support to visually impaired students for Science and Math.
With the learning from the pilot phase in one school, in the academic year April 2019 – March 2020, Vision Empower created an implementation plan for broad-basing the pilot project in academic year 2019-20 for visually impaired children in 4th, 5th and 6th grades in 9 schools across Karnataka with approval from the Directorate for Welfare of Differently Abled and Senior Citizens, Government of Karnataka (DWDSC-KA). VE extended the team to 5 Team leads, 4 Educational Co-ordinators and 1 Special Educator. The highlight of this year was the launch of a new program on Computational Thinking for visually impaired students, launched in partnership with Microsoft India.
Capacity Building programs were introduced for the VE team and new partnerships with organizations such as Enability Foundation, XRCVC and Awake Foundation were formalized to collaboratively address the needs of the children in schools. Vision Empower also formalized the partnerships with the organizations who were knowledge partners since 2017, including Matruchhaya and XRCVC and also became a member of an Inter University Alliance with IIT Kanpur, IIITB, Ashoka University, IITM, IIMB and St Xavier’s College Mumbai. With approval from the DWDSC-KA the Pragya teacher training was also expanded to address the needs of teachers of the nine schools which received the books. In collaboration with I-STEM, Vision Aid and XRCVC, Vision Empower has organized three editions of the Inclusive Hackathon at IIIT Bangalore in January since 2018, to develop awareness about the capabilities of visually impaired programmers and provide the necessary accommodations.
Computational Thinking can enable students in just about any career they choose and who better than teachers to be this change
The technology research portfolio of Vision Empower, SRUJAN, has evolved since its inception and includes projects to address the challenges uncovered during the research phase. An accessible online Learning Management System (LMS), SUBODHA has been designed to reinforce Science and Mathematics lessons taught in class. Subodha has been deployed and user tested at one school and demonstrated to the DWDSC. Currently, feature enhancements, accessibility testing and content creation is in progress. The platform has been populated with accessible content for Grades 4, 5 and 6. Content creation for Grades 1,2, 3 and 7 are in progress. Vision Empower and XRCVC are working jointly to make content for more than 300 XRCVC courses available on Subodha for students with visual impairment and teachers of visually impaired students. An interface has been designed to automate creation of 2.5D diagrams from scanned pictures in school textbooks. The project has been successfully tested for several types of diagrams in collaboration with IIITB. An audio labeling tool (TAG – Tactile Audio Gallery) has been designed to reinforce the learning of diagrammatic representations in Science and Math. The device has been created in collaboration with IIITB. An affordable Refreshable Braille display has been designed in collaboration with IIITB and Touchétech Labs, to provide visually impaired children with easy access to reading material at par with their sighted peers. A prototype of the product Hexis has been created and tested with more than 30 students and teachers. Further engineering development is in progress.
In 2020-21, with an expanded team of 5 core team members, 6 Educational Co-ordinators, 1 Consulting Special Educator and 3 Principal Researchers, the interventions of Vision Empower are set to reach students of Grades 1 to 7 in at least 10 schools for the blind in Karnataka. In collaboration with Microsoft India, Vision Empower will run the pilot Computational Thinking curriculum in 10 schools in Karnataka. This will include Numeracy, Digital Literacy and teacher training on the pedagogical tools developed jointly for the same. Vision Empower will work with the Government of Tripura to organize a workshop in collaboration with XRCVC for more than 50 teachers at Agartala on the pedagogical needs of inclusive STEM education for students with visual impairment. Vision Empower will work with Pratham Books on a project to curate accessible age appropriate Braille story books for children with visual impairments. Vision Empower will create a systematic plan to introduce a pilot course on Drawing for students with visual impairment.
2. Detailed Report
2.1 Operational Aspects
PRAGYA TEACHER TRAINING
Pragya Teacher Training in collaboration with Canara Bank Relief and Welfare Association (Matruchhaya):The Science and Mathematics teachers of 4th, 5th and 6th standard were introduced to special pedagogic needs of students with visual impairments following the Karnataka State syllabus. In addition to being introduced to the Braille books on Science and Mathematics specially created for the first time, the teachers were provided teaching aids, tactile diagrams, models and methods of experiential learning on two units of each grade.
- 26th June 2019 to 28th June 2019: Vision Empower organized the Pragya 2019 Teacher Trainings for Science and Mathematics teachers from 8 special schools for the visually impaired attended the training on directives from the Department for Welfare of Differently Abled and Senior Citizens, Government of Karnataka. 14 of the 16 teachers who attended the training were visually impaired.
- 28th and 29th of January2020: The second two day Teachers’ training workshop Pragya’2020 was attended by 13 teachers from 8 schools for children with visual impairment. Out of 13 teachers who attended the workshop, 10 teachers were blind.
The Science and Mathematics teachers of 4th, 5th and 6th standard were introduced to special pedagogic needs of students with visual impairments following the Karnataka State syllabus.
Anubhav 2019, held on 20th and 21st of September 2019,was designed based on information gathered over June 2018 – August 2019 from the Vision Empower school interventions which culminated in the design of the 2 days of workshops on various learning activities. The program was conducted with efforts from the team and our partners Enability Foundation, and participation from the students of 6th grade of Shri Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind (SRMAB) and their teacher, Mrs. Brinda Magesh.
Inclusive STEM confluence 2020
This was the third year running of its earlier version – the Inclusive STEM Hackathon. Aiming to foster an inclusive environment and culture through giving participants first-hand experience, the Inclusive STEM Confluence 2020 was conducted at IIIT Bangalore during 17-18 January 2020. This event was attended by close to 120 persons over two days, mainly from the IT industry, higher technical institutions, special schools for persons with disabilities and non-government organizations working in the area of accessibility. This year, this event aimed to question our, often, 'knee jerk' reaction to diversity, striving to make inclusion an everyday aspect of our work and educational environments rather than something that needs special attention. The 2020 Confluence had multiple tracks: workshops, a 24-hour hackathon, round table discussions, an assistive technology product exposition and an employer connect initiative.
"Alone we can do so little; Together we can do so much."
- Hellen Keller
Ananda: the hand-holding program for students
VE volunteer, Prof Dhanalakshmi, retired Professor of Mathematics, NMKRV College, worked with students at SRMAB to teach Science, Mathematics and Social Studies to students in various grades in academic year 2019-20.
VE volunteer Rachana, post graduate from APU, has been helping with creation of Teacher Instruction Kits for Mathematics for Grade 1, 2 and 3.
Ananda program of hand-holding with students after school could not be continued due to unavailability of volunteers and lack of bandwidth from team members for co-ordination.
This was the first year of the Implementation phase of Vision Empower. So, the outcome of the pilot in Year 1 (2018-19) which was for Grade 5 in 1 school was considered as input to design the programs for Year 2 (2019-20). The number of schools increased to 9 and the grades addressed were 4, 5 and 6. Two Pragya trainings were held instead of three due to school commitments of teachers. This year VE Educational Co-ordinators visited 5 schools regularly throughout the year to help teachers and students with their activities and to implement th Computational Thinking pilot.
This year, we implemented our own Teacher Training content with guidance from our Special Educator, Nandini Menon.
Number of schools/centers;teachers/students/other key stakeholders worked closely/directly with last year.
|No||Outreach at||No of Children||No of Teachers||Associates||Remarks|
|1||School||345||15||Includes Science Math and CT interventions|
|3||Matruchhaya (NGO - Braille Center)||5|
|9||IIITB||20||Includes students and faculty|
2.2 Educational Aspects
Vidhya Y- Vidhya is currently engaged as a research fellow at Microsoft Research India and she is in a critical role for Vision Empower wherein she contributes to the ideation and strategy for the VE collaboration with Microsoft on taking Computational Thinking to the schools for the blind. She is also involved in reviewing content and curriculum created for STEM education for schools. During this COVID19 lockdown phase, she is leading the Online Teacher Training initiative from VE.
She interacts with students during all the events conducted for teachers and students including Pragya and Anubhav. She also conducts individual programs in the Anubhav workshop and provides research analyses on the data collected through the same.
She provides critical user feedback on all the technologies that are created for the visually impaired as an experienced user of assistive technologies.
She also provides direction to the technology portfolio of Vision Empower.
She is instrumental in representing VE in public forums and for all competitions and presentations made on behalf of VE. She has been the face of VE for all partners and stakeholders.
Prof Amit Prakash: Prof Amit has been reviewing all the plans for interventions launched by VE and he has also been single POC for all academic collaborations. He also engages with institutions such as schools, the Government representatives and withheads of research labs such as Microsoft Research, Fidelity. He is also involved in designing capacity building exercises for Vision Empower. He provides strategic inputs on business decisions of VE.
Supriya Dey: Supriya is involved in the day to day operations of VE and involved in all the programs that are initiated by VE at a hands on level, including managing alliances, content creation, training and technology projects.
To empower the visually impaired through inclusive education
2017-2018 - Research Phase
The first year was used by VE to understand the ecosystem in which the schools for the blind operate and the assistive technology ecosystem that existed in that period. Based on that, VE decided on building a Capacity building plan for the core team members. Supporting partners were sought for all interventions.
2018-19 - Pilot Phase
VE worked with Vividha Trust which is founded by special educators to understand the needs of the visually impaired children. This engagement was over a period of one year on a week on week basis to gain expertise on the subjects. VE also worked closely with Braille experts at Matruchhaya to understand how to create Braille books and the processes required.VE core team members underwent training with XRCVC Mumbai on creation of accessible books for visually impaired children.
2019-20: Implementation Phase
2.3 Organisational Aspects
VE has instituted systems and structures for systematic capacity building of team. The following trainings/workshops were attended by team members and to enhance the core educational expertise within the team.
I for Inclusion Training: A workshop was organized by Vision Empower in collaboration with experts from XRCVC, for Vision Empower staff, researchers and volunteers on 20th May to 22nd May 2019. The training was attended by a total of 27 participants spread across various sessions.
Induction Training Program for the Educational Facilitators: The training was conducted by the core team members.
Capacity building workshop on Expanded core curriculum: Workshop conducted by Nandini Menon, Special Educator to help Educational co-ordinators of VE understand the list of things to be borne in mind regarding educational practices to be followed for the visually impaired.
JodoGyan training: JodoGyan hosted a three day workshop entitled JodoGyan Mathematics Curriculum-Phase 1 for the pre-primary children (Age group 3-6).
Workshop conducted by Microsoft team: Several workshops were conducted for Educational coordinators of Vision Empower at Microsoft Research (MSR) along with the Microsoft team under the guidance of Dr. Manohar Swaminathan, PI from MSR.
I for Inclusion Training: A workshop was organized by Vision Empower in collaboration with experts from XRCVC, for Vision Empower staff, researchers and volunteers on 20th May to 22nd May 2019. The event was intended to create awareness among participants on the realities of visually impaired persons, bust myths about their limitations and provide teachers with the knowledge of the accommodations required to teach them Science and Math. The training was attended by a total of 27 participants spread across various sessions.
Jodogyan Trainings: Two VE educational co-ordinators have attended 3 sessions of Jodogyan trainings at New Delhi.The course had three phases.
- Phase 1: 8th to 10th August.
The first phase involved activities for pre-primary children which helps us connect to the ideas being introduced without developing the fear for Mathematics.
- Phase 2: 23rd October to 25th October.
This was a three day workshop which covered various topics like fractions, Number sense, Geometry, Measurements, Data Handling etc, for Grades 1st -5th. A detailed step by step and interesting teaching methodologies were demonstrated.
- Phase 3: 11th December to 14th December.
This was a four day workshop which threw more light in understanding the various pedagogical approaches, Assessments and Reflections followed by a Kendra visit and few insights from Ushaji-Founder of Jodogyan.
OD Capacity Building workshop conducted by Wipro Foundation: The 5-day workshop was designed to equip the participants with the skills, knowledge and tools to be able to do their own diagnosis of the context of work and organisation. Two core team members, Sylvia Veeraraghavan and Meghna Chowdhury attended this training and learnt various aspects of Design thinking for organization building of NGOs on 17th February, 2020 to 21st February, 2020. The workshop helped us in understanding the internal and external system of our ecosystem using various design thinking tools to be able to diagnose the context of the work in our organisation so that we plan our interventions effectively. The different topics covered were around System thinking, System diagnostic tools, Design thinking, Rethinking organisational design, Exploring Individual preferences, leadership and culture of the organisation.
"True teachers are those who help us to think for ourselves."
- Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan
- VE has been granted 12A in 2017-18 and 80G has been filed on December-2019 and we are expecting to receive intimation for the same from the Income Tax in June-2020 .
- FCRA registration- VE has not yet completed three years. We will be applying for FCRA in the month of October-2020.
- VE has been granted permission by the Government of Karnataka(DWDSC) to legally take interventions and deploy it across all schools for the blind in Karnataka.
- VE has filed for two patents.
- A joint patent was filed by VE and IIIT-Bangalore for TAG a device to help VI children with audio labelling for science diagrams.
- A joint patent was filed by VE, Touchétech and IIIT-Bangalore for a provisional patent for Hexis-The braille book reader.
- VE engaged the services of Banana IP consultants to create an agreement to license the intellectual property created for Hexis-The braille book reader to be licensed to Vembi Technologies Pvt Limited, the product arm of Vision Empower.
- Sylvia Veeraraghavan was hired as Program Director at Vision Empower Sylvia Veeraraghaven ensures that programs are executed efficiently in collaboration with all the stakeholders. After two decades of rich experience in the IT services industry at companies such as Wipro and Mindtree, Sylvia spent five years in the development sector at Janaagraha as the Head – Civic Participation. She used her leadership and technology skills for programs to design, build and roll out multiple Digital Solutions for transformational societal change.
- Rajagopal Nagarajan was hired as PRINCIPAL CONSULTANT - Embedded Technologies. He is a hands-on technologist with three decades of product development and technology management experience in companies like Wipro, Mindtree, Ametek and other product startups. His expertise is in embedded and web technologies and he has created solutions for customers such as Intel and Cisco. He will also be leading the technology building arm of VE as the CTO.
- Vidhya will be completing her Research fellowship at Microsoft Research and will be back full-time to VE from July-2020. Her roles and responsibilities would involve Secondary and Primary Research, Domain expertise for design of interventions, Lead Teacher Trainings and Finance.
- Meghna Chowdhury has been accepted as a Wipro Fellow. She has an MBA in Human Resource Management with experience as an HR manager earlier in her career. This makes her an ideal candidate to help build VE HR and Administrative processes. Besides she has a Diploma in Montessori Training.
- Nandini Menon has been hired as Special Educational Co-Ordinator. Nandini has a postgraduate degree in Special Education for Visually Impaired students and with her immense experience in the field, she is ideally suited to manage the large responsibility of ensuring quality of accessible content.
Developing a shared vision and positive culture in the organization
- The genesis of Vision Empower was from the challenges faced by one of the founders. Hence at the very outset, the founders were clear that any solution that would be created at VE would be in collaboration with the user community and any new member who would join us would be allowed to immerse with the community to understand their challenges and bring the learning from the field into their contributions.
- Regular updates and open communication in addition to formal weekly meetings helps VE to collaboratively address challenges. The team is very motivated and have expressed their satisfaction at being able to contribute to a cause directly and be in the frontline of the interventions.
- Appreciation of small successes and teamwork are encouraged by the leads who are all hands on with all activities. Every member looks forward to another day at work to discover new ways of contributing to VE and its mission. VE is very lucky to have such a motivated team.
- HR and Admin functions are considered critical and hence Meghna Chowdhury was inducted into the role. She spends half her bandwidth on ensuring all the VE associates needs are met and their work environment is enjoyable and positive.
- Quarterly reporting with the mentors at IIITB are very vibrant with every member presenting their work and learning about the work in other teams such as the technology team. The tech team interacts closely with the school interaction team and usability and acceptance testing is always a joint activity.
- Team gatherings and celebrations add to the joy of work at VE.
- Attrition and growth in the core team:
One senior team member Aditya Manpuria exited VE for family reasons. The contributions from Sylvia are commensurate to the requirements of the School Interventions Lead role and Rajagopal N was experienced enough to handle the technology portfolio. So, the impact of the attrition has not been high. We had 14 student interns contributing over this period on various projects and their contribution to VE is significant.
The advisory committee of Vision Empower has not been finalized. However, the confirmed members include Prof T K Srikanth (IIITB), Prof Damodaran Seshadri (IIMB, ISB) and Mr Shiv Kumar Janardhan (Strategic Investor and former CEO of Essilor Group, India and South Asia).
The Income Tax Audits, 80G Registration and any financial compliances of Vision Empower have been outsourced to B P Rao and Co. Vision Empower follows standard processes as per Income Tax department of India for the TDS and PT payments of employees on a regular basis.
Since VE is incubated at IIITB, for all funding received by VE through joint research projects with IIITB, all VE project deliverables are audited by IIITB legal and finance teams. For all joint projects, VE submits quarterly reports to IIITB and raises invoices against milestones achieved as per project plan signed by Principal Investigators at IIITB and the funding corporate.
VE follows strict process guidelines for content creation. This gated process monitored by domain experts and Special Educators ensures that all pedagogic material follows the required standards of quality.
The role of HR and Administration:
- Processing and record keeping activities (maintaining employee personal details, storage etc).
- Payroll Administration: Tasks necessary to organise the Compensation of Employees, Pay policy etc.
- Creating and Implementing policies/processes to form an employee-supportive structure in the organisation.
- Compiling the VE HR Employee Handbook.
- Operational role: Identification and implementation of needed programs like recruiting and selection, training personnel, administering compensation and benefits etc.
- Accounting and Financial role: Streamlining accounts, Bank accounts transfers, Paycheck transfers, Employee reimbursements and maintaining records and bills, Travel bookings, paying off the monthly expenses of VE, purchases and materials procurement.
2.4 Financial Aspects
Wipro Foundation is providing the Wipro Seed Grant Fellowship to co-founder Supriya Dey from Dec 1 2017 till date. The fellowship for Vidhya Y was provided from Dec 1 2017 to June 30 2018. Meghna Chowdhury is being provided the fellowship from Jan 1 2020 till Dec 1 2020.
Fidelity Business Services India provided the funding for development of the Learning Management System(Subodha)- Out of the total CSR grant of Rs. 16.4 lakhs made by Fidelity Business Services India Pvt. Ltd. towards the project, Design and Development of accessible LMS by Vision Empower to IIITB, Rs. 13.1 lakhs was earmarked to be released as a sub-grant to VE by IIITB as part of the agreement between IIITB and VE. As recommended by TIRAC at IIITB, 70% of this grant amounting to Rs 9.17 lakhs was disbursed to VE on 4/4/2019. The grant was utilized as per agreed budget and the report on utilization of INR 916397 has been provided to IIITB by VE.
Microsoft Corporation Private Limited: First Quarter 2019-20: Out of the total CSR grant of Rs. 23,283,13 made by Microsoft Corporation (India) Pvt Ltd. towards the project to IIITB, Rs. 13,95,000was earmarked to be offered as a sub-grant to VE by IIITB as part of the agreement between IIITB and VE. 25% of Rs. 13,95,000, amounting to Rs 3,48,750 was paid in the first quarter(August-2019).
Second and Third Quarter 2019-20: Out of the total CSR grant of Rs. 23,283,13 made by Microsoft Corporation (India) Pvt Ltd. towards the project to IIITB, Rs. 13,95,000 was earmarked to be offered as a sub-grant to VE by IIITB as part of the agreement between IIITB and VE. 25% of Rs. 13,95,000, amounting to Rs 3,48,750 was paid in the first, second and third quarters (December-2019 and January-2020). A total of Rs 10,46,250 was received.
Microsoft Research Lab India Pvt Limited: First Quarter 2019-20: Out of the total CSR grant of Rs. 24,13,275made by Microsoft Corporation (India) Pvt Ltd. towards the project to IIITB, Rs. 16,33,500 was earmarked to be offered as a sub-grant to VE by IIITB as part of the agreement between IIITB and VE. 25% of Rs. 16,33,500, amounting to Rs 4,08,375was paid in the first quarter(August-2019).
Second and Third Quarter 2019-20: Out of the total CSR grant of Rs. 24,13,275 made by Microsoft Corporation (India) Pvt Ltd. towards the project to IIITB, Rs. 16,33,500 was earmarked to be offered as a sub-grant to VE by IIITB as part of the agreement between IIITB and VE. 25% of Rs. 16,33,500, amounting to Rs 4,08,375 was paid in the first second and third quarter(December-2019 and January-2020). A total of Rs 12,25,125/- was received.
Non Commercial Partnerships
MoU with Enability Foundation: : Vision Empower and Enability Foundation incubated at IIT Madras signed an MoU on 6th of August 2019 to collaborate on creation of tactile diagrams using Tactograph, a product designed by Enability. The two teams will work on making more tactile diagrams available to visually impaired teachers and students for Science and Math. Vision Empower and Enability have jointly created an Experience Center for persons with disabilities at 28th A Cross, Geetha Colony, Jayanagar 4th Block.
MoU with Canara Bank Welfare Association, Matruchhaya: Vision Empower signed an MoU with Matruchhaya on 5th August 2019 to create Braille books for Mathematics and Science for each visually impaired student at schools for the blind in Karnataka and for skill enhancement of Science and Math teachers from special schools for the blind through Pragya Teacher Training programmes.
MoU with XRCVC, Mumbai:: Vision Empower and XRCVC have signed an MoU on 9th September 2019 to collaborate in providing online content on Subodha for all teacher training modules of XRCVC.
Vision Empower became a member of the Inter University Alliance for Accessible Higher Education along with IIITB, IITM, St. Xavier’s College Mumbai, Ashoka University, IIMB and IITK.
Vembi Technologies Pvt. Ltd. was incorporated on 9.1.2020 as the product arm of Vision Empower, to enable manufacturing and marketing of Hexis – the refreshable Braille reader device which has reached the prototype stage. VE, Touchétech and IIITB have licensed the technology to Vembi Technologies to enable the manufacturing, production and further developments on the device.
Government of Tripura: Vision Empower was invited by the Government of Tripura to submit a proposal and present to the Principal Secretary, Department of Education and Principal Secretary, Department of Social Welfare on March 3rd 2020, on the interventions required to make Science and Math education accessible for students with visual impairment in the state.
2.5 Communications and Outreach
- Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2019: Vision Empower took part in the “Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2019” program arranged at IIIT Bangalore on 15th May 2019. Aditya Manpuria of Vision Empower presented the journey of creation of the Subodha accessible Learning Management System to representatives from various organizations working on advocacy and accessibility solutions.
- Supriya Dey and Sylvia Veeraraghavan addressed Principals of special schools from all over Karnataka at an event in Cubbon Park organized by DWDSC, Government of Karnataka to explain the interventions being taken up by VE and the plans going forward.
- Supriya Dey, Vidhya Y and Sylvia Veeraraghavan addressed 12 NGOs invited by Director, DWDSC on the operations of VE.
- I for Inclusion Training: A workshop was organized by Vision Empower in collaboration with experts from XRCVC, for Vision Empower staff, researchers and volunteers on 20th May to 22nd May 2019. The event was intended to create awareness among participants on the realities of visually impaired persons, bust myths about their limitations and provide teachers with the knowledge of the accommodations required to teach them Science and Math. The training was attended by a total of 27 participants spread across various sessions.
- DWDSC Approved Pragya Teacher Training in collaboration with Canara Bank Relief and Welfare Association (Matruchhaya):The teachers of 4th, 5th and 6th standard were introduced to special pedagogic needs of teaching Science and Mathematics following the Karnataka State syllabus to children with visual impairment. In addition to being introduced to the Braille books on Science and Mathematics specially created for the first time, the teachers were provided teaching aids, tactile diagrams, models and methods of experiential learning on two units of each grade.
- Pragya 26th June 2019 to 28th June 2019: Vision Empower organized the Pragya 2019 Teacher Trainings for Science and Mathematics teachers from 8 special schools for the visually impaired attended the training on directives from the Department for Welfare of Differently Abled and Senior Citizens, Government of Karnataka. 14 of the 16 teachers who attended the training were visually impaired.
- 28th and 29th of January2020: The second two day Teachers’ training workshop Pragya’2020 was attended by 13 teachers from 8 schools for children with visual impairment. Out of 13 teachers who attended the workshop, 10 teachers were blind.
- Inclusive Learning for the Blind, Let’s Embrace the Growing Needs of Stem Education, Impacts on Inclusion and Social Integration: Vidhya Y and Supriya Dey were speakers in a Panel Discussion on “Inclusive Learning for the Blind, Let’s Embrace the Growing Needs of Stem Education, Impacts on Inclusion and Social Integration” at the Say Everything Convention 2019, jointly organised by Say Everything Group and Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled on September 14, 2019.
- Empower 2019:
- Vision Empower curated an experience zone, STEMPOWER, at Empower 2019 Conference on Assistive Technologies at IIT Delhi on 17th October 2019. STEMPOWER presented the solutions from passionate innovators and social entrepreneurs in enhancing the current pedagogy for persons with visual impairment beginning at infancy until professional education and showcased emerging technology solutions which can empower the community and their service providers. The zone was successful in generating awareness among students, teachers, technology designers and policy makers by showcasing the promises of a collaborative eco-system and the need for further open innovation in addressing the grand challenge. The Vision Empower collaborators who joined us in this effort were Enability Foundation, I- Stem, Matruchhaya, Microsoft, Raised Lines Foundation, Touchétech through Card Games: Aishwarya O, Geetha R, Jyoti Bisht, Sylvia V. (VE)Gesu India, ManoharSwaminathan (MSR)
- Poster presentation on Hexis – The Refreshable Braille Book Reader: Rajagopal N (VE), Paul D Souza (Touchétech), Sujit Chakravarti (IIITB).
- Inclusive STEM Confluence 2020: This was the third year running of its earlier version – the Inclusive STEM Hackathon. Aiming to foster an inclusive environment and culture through giving participants a first-hand experience, the Inclusive STEM Confluence 2020 was conducted at IIIT Bangalore during 17-18 January 2020. This event was attended by close to 120 persons over two days, mainly from the IT industry, higher technical institutions, special schools for persons with disabilities and non-government organizations working in the area of accessibility. This year, this event aimed to question our, often, 'knee jerk' reaction to diversity, striving to make inclusion an everyday aspect of our work and educational environments rather than something that needs special attention. The 2020 Confluence had multiple tracks: workshops, a 24-hour hackathon, round table discussions, an assistive technology product exposition and an employer connect initiative.
- View all the Buzz at Vision Empower
3.0 Outcome of Our Work
The key outcomes of VE initiatives in 2019-20 are:
- Approval from DWDSC, Government of Karnataka to reach all schools for the blind in Karnataka for teacher training on Science, Mathematics and CT.
- Approval from DWDSC and DSERT to provide accessible Text books for Mathematics and Science to all students with visual impairment in Karnataka.
- Acceptance of Subodha - the VE accessible LMS by Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the blind as the pilot school - Success of the Proof of Concept.
- Outreach to 9 schools, 15 teachers and 345 students at least with text books and teacher training kits.
- Three close partnerships were strengthened through MoUs - Mathruchhaya (Canara Bank Welfare Association), XRCVC (St Xavier’s Resource Center for Visually Challenged) and Enability Foundation (IIT Madras).
- New partnerships are being built with Pratham Books for quality extracurricular content and NAB Chennai for developing Teacher Training modules for teachers of blind students across the country.
- Creation of 2 research papers from Vision Empower.
- Creating an Accessible Technology Ecosystem for Learning Science and Math: A Case of Visually Impaired Children in Indian Schools View PDF
- Learning through Play, Designing a Game-Based Curriculum to Teach Numeracy Skills : View PDF
- Publication of 2 academic research papers.
- ASSETS ’19: The 21st International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility. https://dl.acm.org/doi/proceedings/10.1145/3308561
- Computational Thinking as Play: Experiences of Children who are Blind or Low Vision in India https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3308561.3354608
- Creation of STEMPOWER - the collaborative experience zone at Empower 2019 at IIT Delhi - as the collaborative platform to be taken forward.
3.1 Alignments/non-alignments to Objectives
All the outcomes are in alignment with the initial objectives of VE which was to address the following challenges:
- Lack of accessible content.
- Lack of modes of dissemination and mentoring.
- Lack of sensitivity to this population in the design of general educational technology.
The solutions created by VE are:
- To create books, tactile diagrams and models as solution packages for the absence of reading material for students and teachers
- To train teachers and provide assistance: VE has created instruction manuals for teachers as kits to help them to teach through a support team.
- To create technologies based on inputs from the community which helps them to overcome the challenges of STEM education.
Non alignments: Since we engaged with the schools and other partners, we realized the need to work with one board i.e. Karnataka State board, to get the process right about conversion of STEM text book content to an accessible form. We also realized the need to build trust with the schools - the teachers and other stakeholders and ensure the interventions were collaborative and not intrusive. Some of the technologies which we initially planned to procure, such as refreshable Braille readers, were too expensive. So, we could not procure the same. Instead we built a team of developers to create low cost version of the same as this is the only way the reading habits of the children can be positively influenced. This was also a basic need to be addressed before expecting the children to be at par on Science and Math with their sighted peers.
3.2 Key learnings
Content Development for visually impaired persons needs to be a collaborative effort and can be best created in collaboration with experts in this area whose content is not reaching all the teachers of blind students in the country. Technology can be a major catalyst in this area.
- Teacher training methods and curriculum is key for the STEM education program to succeed.
- The government is keen to implement positive changes in the schools. However, administrative processes are slow and the officials are unaware of the ground reality in the schools.
- Planning for school interventions needs to be in collaboration with the schools and not an out-of-school activity. Common resource centers and teaching resources can help to address the common challenges of schools.
- Technologies research can be carried out at VE, but it is essential to find a good go-to-market strategy for the same for sustenance and real usage by the community.
4.0 FUTURE PLANS: APRIL 2020 – MARCH 2021
- Vision Empower will supply Science and Mathematics Braille books for all students of Grades 4, 5, 6 and 7 in 10 schools for the blind in Karnataka.
- Vision Empower will provide tactile diagrams and models required by schools to teach Science and Mathematics for Grades 4 to 7 in the 10 schools in Karnataka.
- Vision Empower will work closely with these 10 schools and conduct Anubhav workshops for students and Pragya teacher trainings for all Science and Math teachers in these schools.
- In collaboration with Microsoft India, Vision Empower will run a pilot Computational Thinking curriculum in 10 schools in Karnataka using the Ludic Design Approach. This will include Numeracy, Digital Literacy and teacher training on the pedagogical tools developed jointly for the same.
- Vision Empower will enhance the Subodha LMS platform and run Quality Assurance on Functionality and Accessibility of the platform.
- Vision Empower will create online accessible text book content on Subodha for Science and Math for Grades 1 to 7 following the Karnataka State Board curriculum.
- Vision Empower will work closely with XRCVC to make content for more than 300 courses available on Subodha for students with visual impairment and teachers of visually impaired students.
- Vision Empower will deploy Subodha in all 10 schools for the blind and train the teachers to use the platform.
- Vision Empower will use the learning outcomes of the research project on changes required on Subodha for disseminating Teacher Training content for the Computational Thinking curriculum in collaboration with Microsoft India and make the appropriate enhancements to Subodha for the same.
- The Teacher Training content for Computational Thinking Curriculum will be deployed on Subodha and disseminated to all 10 schools in Karnataka.
- Vision Empower will gather data from the deployments on usage and requirements to finalize the model for scaling up the Subodha platform across the country.
- Vision Empower will work with the Government of Tripura to organize a workshop in collaboration with XRCVC for more than 50 teachers at Agartala on the pedagogical needs of inclusive STEM education for students with visual impairment.
- Vision Empower will respond to the needs of the state of Tripura on technology for inclusive education for students with visual impairment and will implement the proposal submitted to the government as per directives from the state government.
- Vision Empower will work with Pratham Books on a detailed research proposal to curate accessible age appropriate Braille story books for children with visual impairments.
- Vision Empower will provide support to schools in Karnataka and Tripura to deploy the Hexis Braille reader.
- Vision Empower will create a systematic plan to introduce a pilot course on Drawing for students with visual impairment.
- Vision Empower will start an online training curriculum for teachers of Science and Math at schools for the blind. The program will be created during the lockdown period due to COVID 19, and the viability of online teacher trainings for 2020-21 will be ascertained. Details of this intervention will then be shared with the institutions after they reopen.
- All events conducted in 2019-20 will be conducted in 2020-21 as well in collaboration with partners.
- Vision Empower will contribute to Empower 2020 conference scheduled to be organized at IIITB in September 2020.
- A research team will be created at Vision Empower to work on a list of funded research projects to be finalized by April 30, 2020.
- Vision Empower will raise funding for deployment of all VE school interventions at all schools for the blind in Karnataka in 2021-22.
"The purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary human beings to do extraordinary things."
- Peter Drucker