These tactile books help children with visual impairment

A three-year-old girl was on a bus in Chennai with her mother. When it pulled up at a stop, someone outside called out “Mylapore poguma?” (Will this bus go to Mylapore?) The girl instantly sat up straight. She asked her mother excitedly, “Is he going to buy rubber bands, bindi, and hairclips there? You get them in Mylapore. Can we go there, too?” Visually-impaired, her idea about the markets of Mylapore was based entirely on a storybook she’d read. Her mother recounted the incident to Namita Jacob, founder and director of Chetana Charitable Trust, who brought out the book. To date, it is amongst the most heart-warming feedback Chetana has received.

Chetana’s library has 255 unique tactile books for children with print disabilities — who cannot effectively read print because of a visual, physical, developmental, cognitive, or learning disorder. The particular book that inspired the little girl, had pages in which were stuck actual hairclips and rubber bands. Through touch and feel, it lets a visually-impaired child understand what is sold in a market. “The only way these children can experience a place,” feels Namita, “Is by having an individual understanding of it.” If an aunt told the child about her visit to the market, she will merely be hearing new words, without any idea of what they actually are. “The elements in our books help build an internal connection,” adds Namita.

The USP of children’s books is their visual appeal. How does one translate this quality for the benefit of a visually-challenged child? “Books for very young children have fewer words and lots of pictures. If they were translated to Braille, imagine how it would be with each page having a single word,” says Namita. At Chetana, volunteers make books with elements stuck and stitched onto the pages. But these are far from the touch-and-feel books in the market that have just fur and fabric in them.

Explaining storybooks’ effects on visually-impaired children, she says, “Getting them hooked to reading expands their world, while revisiting these books improves their command over language.”

This, in turn, paves the way for their literacy. However, Braille school text books are easily accessible. “Imagine if the first book a visually-impaired child is given to read is a Braille text book,” says Namita. “How then will he/she develop an interest in reading?”

The Indian Association for the Blind in Madurai has an extensive library with Braille and audio books. However, its collection also includes a wide range of school and college text books. S Manjula, who is in-charge of the Braille press, says that the library has Tamil novels by authors such as Sujatha and B Jeyamohan, songs by Bharati, Shakespeare’s stories for children, folk tales, among others.

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“We also bring out two magazines for people of all ages every month; Vizhi Savaal that has poems, art work, and other contributions by visually-impaired people and Braille Manjari, which is a selection of articles from various newspapers and magazines.”

Mumbai-based startup Cubs and Calves, that makes fabric-based ‘quiet books’, has launched a new line of sensory books for children with visual difficulties and slow learners. “These have noise-makers, squeezers, touch-and-feel fabric that is crinkly, and those that have different textures,” explains Priya Ravishankar, founder.

She also makes fabric books with mirrors in them, targeted at children with problems in eye-sight.

“Parents can read them with their children on a trip to the park, for instance. The mirrors catch light and the child can interpret various colours through it,” she adds. Cubs and Calves is also in the process of making Braille books. “We will use buttons for the text to give an elevated feel,” says Priya.

Dr Kalpana Narendran, paediatric ophthalmologist, Aravind Eye Hospital, Coimbatore, acknowledges the dearth of storybooks for visually-impaired children. “But they will make a world of difference in their lives,” she feels. “Children will be able to feel and appreciate what’s around them. The earlier they are exposed to books, the better.” From time to time, every child needs to escape into a fictional world.

(This is the last in a series on children’s books that deal with complex issues.)

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 1:22:16 PM |

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