CHENNAI: Away from the hustle and bustle of the city stands this small garden which has around 10,000 species, aromatic herbs and aquatic plants.
However, the only distinctive feature here is that the signboards are in Braille and the pathway is paved in such a manner that one can navigate using the texture of the pavement stones. The ‘Touch and Feel’ garden at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation is one space in the city that is exclusively for the visually-challenged, including students from blind schools.
Built in 2002, the garden was proposed by M S Swaminathan so that the visually impaired could experience the vastness of the biodiversity in a safe manner.
Designed in consultation with the National Institute for the Visually-Challenged, the garden has pebbles, mats and direction indicators.
“Children can even run around here,” says S Rajalakshmi, programme coordinator at the foundation, who put together the garden.
There are hanging pots where the children can smell and touch the plants. Their other senses, she says, are developed and many of them have become adept at identifying the plants after their visits to the garden.
“They get very excited, one even wanted to study a plant,” she says.
The garden was improved with feedback from children, who wanted to have a feel of the lilies, lotuses and more flower beds.
Apart from seeing it as just a recreational space, some students even had questions about making it a livelihood.
“All of them are worried a lot about getting into jobs and being independent. Options like nursery management and plant shops can be considered by them. Some have even set up small nurseries in their villages,” says Rajalakshmi.
The foundation hopes this could be a prototype of many such gardens that could be built to reach out to more of the visually-challenged population, which hardly have spaces designed specially for them.