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'Sparsh Bharati' - a new guide for visually impaired persons

'Sparsh Bharati' - a new guide for visually impaired persons

  • 6th Dec 2023
  • The Hindu

Sparsh Bharati is an offshoot of Bharati script developed by IIT Madras professor

After introducing the Bharati script V. Srinivasa Chakravarthy, a professor of biotechnology in the Indian Institute of Technology Madras has developed a script for persons with visual impairment.

The script has been tested on students and teachers in schools in New Delhi and they have given feedback as well. In videos of the experiment shared with The Hindu of the visually impaired persons learning the new script, all participants were excited as it was easy to learn.

Prof. Chakravarthy has named the script Sparsh Bharati. This 'Indian Braille' can be used across Indian languages, he said.

Bharati uses phonetics, the common basis for all Indic languages, he explained. "We adapted the script to a lot of Indian languages including Bodo, of the Northeast. We want to adapt it to tribal languages without a script of their own. Tribals resist learning Indian languages fearing that their language would lose identity," the professor said.

Bharati could be used as a tool to get to literacy and for those who wish to learn a new language. It could be used to encode dying languages of Andaman and Nicobar natives, he opined. Sparsh Bharati, on the other hand, is an offshoot of Bharati. Unlike the conventional Braille which students take two years to master Sparsh Bharati can be learnt within hours of being exposed to it, Mr. Chakravarthy said.

"The idea was Bharati script is so simple why not print it in an embossed form and people can feel it and write it," he said. He roped into his experiment Deepak Kumar Gupta, an assistant professor at Delhi University, who has a visual impairment. He is currently doing a PhD at IIT Delhi.

"He made several suggestions. Bharati characters come in three levels and all Indian languages have the same phonetic structure. In the original Braille, every word fits into six dots; we developed Sparsh Bharati using a combination of lines and dots," Mr. Chakravarthy said.

The similarity in the phonetic structure among Indian languages meant that it could be referred to constantly. Sparsh Bharati is a multi-sensory model of language learning where sight and touch both can reinforce each other in learning alphabet, unlike the conventional printed and Braille systems that are exclusively visual and tactile, the researcher explained.

Unlike the six dots in Braille a square with six horizontal and six vertical lines and four dots to indicate phonetics were developed. "This way we can have 65,000 combinations (for words) whereas Braille offers only 64. Once you know Bharati script which is visual the Sparsh Bharati is intuitive and visual," Mr. Chakravarthy said.

During the pandemic, the researcher developed a sign language for the deaf with support from TCS. "We made a system to convey the characters using gestures or mudra. We used the idea of invisible blackboard, the left hand and finger movements to denote a consonant and the right hand to indicate vowels," the professor explained.

With the project completed Mr. Chakravarthy is looking for people to take the language to the students.

His team comprising four students, three of them women, are exploring a variety of printing media for Sparsh Bharati. They found 3D printed plastic boards most effective. "However, we are exploring more affordable options for printing on a large scale," he said.

Two undergraduate students are working on designing a special printer for Sparsh Bharati as it requires a device to develop edge-like dents on paper. The conventional Braille printers cannot do them.

For the blind students to whom the script was given it was a revelation. One said, "I am reading it for the first time, so I find it a little difficult. I had the same problem while learning Braille. With this even normal people will be able to understand what is written," he said in a recorded video of the experiment. Some of the suggestions from the students are that the script should be smaller so that the printed books would be less bulky.

"The education sector is becoming inclusive where sighted and blind kids are together in a class. The sighted could teach the blind students and can understand the need better," said a teacher who participated in the exercise.