Visionary idea to make tech accessible for everyone

Raja believes that a lack of employment opportunities devaluates the skillset of the the visually disabled.
Visionary idea to make tech accessible for everyone

CHENNAI : The true meaning of a project comes alive when the power to dream pushes beyond limits and brings a profound impact on common lives. Dr R Raja dared to dream sans boundaries and envisioned unique opportunities in the lives of visually-challenged individuals like him, by incorporating technology to battle entrenched social constraints.

“Is it that visually challenged individuals can only receive help and cannot reciprocate it back? This thought propelled me to act,” says Raja.

Thaaikarangal Charitable Trust, which he founded in September 2019, aims to uplift the lives of a community often neglected. The trust engages in welfare initiatives for the sightless such as providing free hostels for girls and temporary hostels for boys, finacial aid for education and conducting workshops in computing. Raja claimed, “Technology is a key tool for integrating unsighted individuals into the larger society.”

The 36-year-old visionary, from Ennore, is now a guest faculty at the Government Arts College in Nandanam. While Raja wanted to opt for computer science in Class 11, he was left with no choice but to take up commerce and economics, as the subject was off-limits for students with visual disabilities. Despite, his desire to use a computer never waned. While studying at Loyola College, he got an opportunity to use a computer when a software development company approached the college for testing. He was invited to participate in a Tamil typing test. Later, in 2008, he was able to attend a computer workshop during a summer camp at IIT Madras. That was when he witnessed technology’s capability to create space for better integration of sightless people into the community. Now, his goodwill allows 600 students to pursue their career aspirations.

Raja and seven others, including both sightless and sighted persons (referred to as trustees), initiated a Thaaikarangal hostel at Sowrashtra Nagar in Choolaimedu. What began as a home for five girls has blossomed into a nurturing sanctuary offering free accommodation and food to 20 visually challenged women pursuing their studies. The hostel is equipped with an audio and braille library, a biometric system, a digital library, Wi-Fi access, Text-to-Speech (TTS) screen reader system, and more. The initiative has catered to 100 visually impaired students pursuing graduation.

Prior to the inception of Thaaikarangal, Raja and his friends organised sports and events for the visually challenged, annually, to explore their talents. “Since 2011, I have been organising computer workshops free-of-cost in colleges for the visually impaired,” he said.

During the pandemic, the members of the trust provided railway workers with monthly provisions.

Thaaikarangal Charitable Trust performs several welfare activities to uplift lives of persons with visual disabilities | express
Thaaikarangal Charitable Trust performs several welfare activities to uplift lives of persons with visual disabilities | express

The same year, they initiated a program to provide employment opportunities for the visually-impaired, benefitting 11 individuals so far. Raja guaranteed that any visually-impaired individual across the state with an innovative start-up idea could approach the trust, who would help them avail of loan assistance through the NHFDC.

On the technological front, Raja lamented the lack of visual accessibility-friendly technology in India. He argued, “Most Indian websites, including government sites, have CAPTCHA, which are sometimes hard for even sighted people to navigate.” He points out that while a few websites now have screen readers, there is a long way for the Indian technology sector to go, to address the needs of the visually impaired.

Raja believes that a lack of employment opportunities devaluates the skillset of the the visually disabled. “All we ask is that, out of every 1000 individuals, at least 10 visually challenged people are given suitable job opportunities. Features supporting accessibility for the visionless such as braille need to be employed,” he said.

Raja decided to harness the perks of technology to realise his dream, to take a holistic approach to improve lives of the sightless. “Provide us with the opportunities, and then hold us accountable if we do not use it,” remarked Raja, a visionary ambitious to make the world accessible for the visionless.

(Visually-impaired individuals seeking assistance can reach out to R Raja at 99403 93855)

(Edited by Rohith Sony)

Related Stories

No stories found.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com