Meet Muthuraj D, a 39-year-old tech whiz who can customise any kind of software to suit the needs of persons with disabilities.With over eight customisations in his kitty, he is now piloting a project that can make buses and bus-stops disabled-friendly
CHENNAI:Growing up with two best friends — one who is visually challenged, Muthuraj D always knew that he would one day work for persons with disability (PwD). The 39-year-old Bengalurean was the eldest of the six children born to a BPL family in Kormangala. Working as a salesman during the day and attending classes in the evenings, he eventually had to drop out of the college. Today, he has developed and customised over eight technologies that help the disabled, some of which has been adapted by technology giants such as Bosch.
Two years ago Muthuraj collaborated with a technology called ‘Kavi’, developed by Mindtree, Chennai and IIT Madras, and used by people with severe disability. This can convert muscular movements into an input.
“Unlike the western countries, disability is seen as a problem in India. Government has a long way to go and officials are apprehensive about spending money on technologies to benefit the disabled,” says Muthuraj adding that he renders solutions by coming up with affordable technologies.
With sky-high costs for propriety software, Muthuraj’s cost-effective technologies are a boon for the disabled, as they’re either free or priced lower than Rs 5,000. Making use of free software such as Camera Mouse, which enables controlling the mouse pointer on the screen with the head movement, he devised a solution for people who cannot move their limbs. He trained non-English speaking students to use this.
He also made an alternative for the three-button foot pedals that are used in medical transcription to record, play, and rewind. Muthuraj customised a mouse and a keyboard to be used instead of the pedal. “With the available three buttons, we can come up with over 30 combinations that can be used for separate commands such as copy and paste,” he explains.
How he got started
Muthuraj worked as an IT professional, after doing a short-term computer course, but he quit his job and began working as an expert in assisted technology solutions in an NGO with the differently-abled community in 2007. During this time, he trained students who had different kinds of disabilities, a stint which inspired more innovations.
For instance, he had to train a student who had cerebral palsy to use the mouse. But he also found out that the mouse was not disabled-friendly. “When he used the mouse, the pointer would dance all over the screen,” says Muthuraj. So the inventor came up with the idea of using a gaming joystick as a mouse. He explains: “To give you a fair idea of what it is and how it works... have you seen the gears on a bus that keeps vibrating because it is in constant motion? Yet, the gear does not change.
In the same way, the joystick mouse requires a harder push so that the cereal-palsy movements will not be an issue.”
Prathap R, the student with cerebral palsy says, “Technology is an integral part of life; earlier it used to be very difficult for me to use it but with the help of this new joystick as a mouse, I am able to control and direct it to do what I want.”
Another student of his, a 26-year-old Ghousia Nishat, has quadriplegia from muscular dystrophy and cannot use the Camera Mouse since it requires neck movement. Muthuraj worked eight months with her, trying many tools. Finally, he came up with a solution by customising Windows speech-recognition tool to operate the Camera Mouse, as Ghousia can see and talk. He even rewired her mobile, linking it to the laptop and making it operational through voice recognition.
Ghousia now shops and pays bills online. “I am now independant in many ways...I am now
capable of doing things I never thought were possible.”
To assist the visually challenged in the telecom sector, he came up with an idea of double-sided headset. “You have to use the computer, talk to the customer and type at the same time...it’s difficult if you are blind. So the double headset has a computer and you can also hear the customer talking to you at the same time. The computer narrates what you are typing and you can also talk to the customer at the same time. If it gets confusing, you can mute the computer,” he says.
The double headset using ordinary headphones is now being developed by Bosch as a full-fledged product called Splitter Box. It is actually a version seven of the double headset.
What’s his next? Muthuraj is working to develop an affordable talking LCD, a cheaper version of what’s available in Canada which will benefit the blind in the hospitality sector. He is also piloting the project to make buses and bus stops disabled-friendly. The project is funded by Twitter.
It continues at home too
Since his wife Swarna is also visually challenged, he wanted to make life easy for her. He purchased a talking induction stove from a Chinese market in Puducherry and gifted it to his wife. However, the buttons were not friendly. Muthuraj stuck bindis on the buttons of the stove— large bindis to increase the temperature and small bindis to decrease it.