Tech, crutch for disabled

A new app by Samsung helps those with Usher syndrome communicate with their teachers, care-givers

Published: 11th September 2019 06:56 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th September 2019 06:56 AM   |  A+A-

Rupa talking with her caregiver (above) and Harshita Mittal (inset) using the app to communicate with her teacher. The dots and dashes denoting alphabets (right)

Express News Service

Though the chances of you remembering the 2006 Vivek Oberoi-Fardeen Khan flick, Pyare Mohan, are minimal as it didn’t fare well at the box office, the movie highlighted the problems faced by deaf and blind persons. While Pyare and Mohan, who played best friends, could depend on one another as and when the situation arose, have you ever thought what would happen to someone who is both deaf and blind? He or she could be in a situation wherein it would be extremely difficult, rather impossible, to communicate with the world or express themselves.

Fifteen-year-old Noida resident Rupa is one such example who, despite being an extremely friendly girl, could never speak her heart out. She is one of the over five lakh persons in India who suffer from a dual disability that combines varying degrees of both hearing and visual impairment — Usher Syndrome. Rupa was slowly limiting her social circle which led to poor life quality, which doctors say could have affected longevity as well. But not anymore.

Over the last two months, Rupa is being trained to use a new mode of communication, an app called Good Vibes that offers seamless two-way communication between the deafblind and their caregivers and families. “Rupa is a happy child. And she has learnt the use of this app really fast. Now she is forever on the phone and I am so happy. She talks with her teacher and her friends. This has also given a respite to me as she can easily communicate about her needs to me,” says her mother Renu.

Launched by tech giant Samsung at RK Puram-based National Association for the Blind, the app is a result of over two years of research and development. Also present at the launch were the teachers of Saksham School, which works with visually-impaired, members of Sense International India, an NGO that works for empowerment of deafblind persons and deafblind persons who are being trained for using the app. “Communication is one of the three challenges apart from mobility and daily needs that these people face,” says Parag Namdeo, Head, Advocacy and Networks, Sense International India. Needless to say, in absence of communication the life of a deafblind person is limited to self. “Their life is limited to finger tips as sense of touch is the only sense with which they can communicate. Not just deafblind but even their caregivers have a tough time in absence of any communication,” he adds.

“This app is our effort towards building an inclusive society, one that enables the deafblind to express themselves freely,” shares Samsung India Vice-President Trivikram Thakore, adding the company partnered with the NGO to take the app to deafblind across the country. “We conducted training workshops at Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru which were attended by deafblind persons, their educators and caregivers, from 28 cities,” says Thakore.  

Over 100 persons (deafblind, their teachers and caregivers) have already been trained in the use of this app. Samsung now plans to reach out to five more cities Goa, Raipur, Ujjain, Kolkata and Nasik.
The app is free of cost, doesn’t require the knowledge of Braillle and apart from a smartphone, no other device is needed for communication,” he added.

How the app works
Good Vibes uses Morse code to convert vibrations into text or voice and vice-versa. It has two different user interfaces -- one for the deafblind, which uses vibrations, taps and gestures, and the other a standard chat interface for the caregiver.While deafblind person uses a combination of dots and dashes to send a message, the caregiver can either type or use voice to send messages to the deafblind. The text or voice is received as vibrations in Morse code that the deafblind can interpret.As of now the app is available on Samsung Galaxy Store and can be downloaded on any Samsung smartphone. In 10 days from now, it will also be available on Google Play Store for all other Android smartphone users.

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