“When I was little I used to feel bad seeing other children, my brother’s and sister’s going to regular school. I just thought it was normal for normal kids. And only I need a special school as I am blind,” says Arpita Das, a class V student.
Like her, many other visually-challenged children go to special school, learn, imagine the object with rich colours, shape and size and with a descriptive purpose. The best friends for such children are braille books which play a major role in their lives.
Unfortunately, unavailability of braille books has been a major problem for such students at various schools and colleges.
To resolve the issue, We4You, an NGO came up with an initiative of ‘Audiobook Project’. The organisation is preparing audio syllabus materials for visually-challenged students of Odisha since last four years.
Stating the importance of this project, Abhaya Mohanta, Co-founder, We4You, says, “audiobooks are course materials, which facilitate visually-challenged students to study without other people’s support. It helps the students learn on their own in an effective, productive and equal learning environment. Courses would gain status by having an audiobook.”
Talking about the issues related to shortage of supply of the braille books and reason behind the initiative of introducing ‘audiobook Project’, Mohanta shares that the braille press in Berhampur was not capable enough in supplying braille books to students all over the State.
“The machinery at Berhampur press is outdated and the government is not doing anything for its renovation. It is not only a serious issue in Odisha, but a problem in almost all states in India. There are only six braille presses present all over the country. Odisha is lucky to have one. But the insufficient supply has become a huge issue,” he says.
“Therefore, we thought of an alternative and took an initiative to introduce ‘audiobook’ to promote the cause of integrated education among them,” adds Mohanta.
These youths aim to uplift and improve the quality of life for visually impaired citizens, assist them in their education, teach them to safeguard their civil rights and enable them to lead an ethical life with dignity.
Additionally, the audiobooks provide an easy, low cost and quick change of the content when it is necessary. Since audiobooks are educational tools to support learning, it should be supported with music and sound effects, adds Mohanta.
They have been successfully running the audio syllabus model in various villages at Odisha including Balasore, Bargarh, Bhadrak, Balangir, Dhenkanal, Ganjam, to name a few.
Around 15 young students and professionals are lending voice to record textbooks for Class VIII, IX and X. In the near future, textbooks for primary classes would even be recorded.
“Education shows the real light. I am happy to be a part of such an organisation. I go to studio and record books. It has given me an opportunity to be a voice for disability, a voice for the humanitarian cause,” says Chandra Mohan, a member of the group.
Scarcity of funds
Statistics reveals that the total number of visually-challenged people in India is around 6,86,197. Out of them, more than 90 percent are from rural areas.
Therefore, in a rural locality, it is difficult to find the required number of visually-challenged children for resource models. Many institutions, schools and colleges face scarcity of funds which is impeding the intellectual growth of the students. There is also a lending library which acts as a source for braille books, but the students have to return after studying. This is a big problem for them as they have no permanent study material with them as the resources are limited. And the major drawback is, there is an acute shortage of skilled teachers to train these specially-abled children.
There are 48 organisations for visually impaired all over Odisha. Approximately 3,000 students study in such institutes under challenging conditions.
“Providing the same educational experiences will boost the confidence and allow the visually-challenged children to interact socially in a normal situation with their families, neighbours and friends. This, in turn, will change the typical public response to blindness. This would provide a natural basis for adult life experiences so that these children may take their proper places as contributing members in all sectors of society,” says a psychologist, Sachin Ghosh, SCB Medical.
Mohanta, along with his other co-founders of We4You, has been successfully running this organisation since 2009. They aim to help the mankind move further.
The audiobook materials can be prepared within 10-15 days of publication of new textbooks with new syllabus. The audio syllabus is cheaper in comparison to braille textbooks. “Total audio textbooks set will cost around Rs 50-60. With the help of mobile or audio player the file can be transferred through Bluetooth which is free of cost,” describes Mohanta.
“The visually impaired students have a sharp memory, so they can memorise all the audio syllabus quickly in comparison to braille textbooks,” says Avantika Panigrahi, a school teacher.
The visually-challenged children require different kinds as well as different levels of service. Children who are at the primary level will require the direct assistance of a specialist teacher whereas children at higher levels depend more on regular classroom teachers, provided they are given the necessary materials for learning in the regular classroom. Therefore, selection of a model depends upon the nature of services needed by these children, adds Panigrahi.
India cannot be a developed country as long as it doesn’t ensure equal rights and opportunities to the specially-gifted section of the society. “We are eager to take a small step in this direction and are sure that a small contribution from donors will help in converting obstacles of stones into steps of success,” says Bhabani Parida, Co-founder, We4You.
The success of audiobook also depends upon the extent of assistance provided by the general classroom teachers. In integration, the general classroom teacher and the specialist teacher are ‘two sides of the same coin’ and, therefore, to cope with the needs of disabled children in general and visually- challenged children in particular.
Mohanta states that this year onwards they will distribute audio syllabus to 25,000 visually impaired students present in all over Odisha. “Younsters should join hands and come up with such innovative ideas and bring smile to the faces of these children,” says Mohanta.