Aishwarya Sivakumar was just 17 when she set her mind on doing something for visually-impaired people. She used to help them with books, teaching, learning, buying things etc. When she turned 19, she started an group called Softhelp Educational and Charitable Trust in Chennai's Kodambakkam with her friend and now husband Narayanan Krishnan. With the help of this organisation, the duo provides medical aid, scholarships, food, blankets, and arranges for a mix of events and activities for visually impaired people.
"Wherever there is a need where the government doesn't help, our organisation comes to the rescue," Aishwarya told The Logical Indian.
Working On An App 'Sagaa'
With the coronaviurs pandemic taking a toll on the lives of people, those living with visual disabilities were not spared from it either. In fact, they were the ones who were at higher risk of contracting the virus. Aishwarya and the team came up with a new project called 'Sagaa'. The initiative is to create a device with the help of artificial intelligence that will make visually impaired people completely independent.
"Such people had a terrible experience during COVID as they were not supposed to touch any person or thing, maintain social distance. People started treating them as a highly vulnerable category because they were the ones who could be the carriers. So we thought of levaraging technology to make them independent," Aishwariya said.
"Their world is limited and they can only communicate through touch and feel. So with this help of this technology, they don't need to be dependent on someone who can hold their hands and make them cross the streets, who can tell them the bus number, who can say whether the red light has turned to green, these things can be achieved through artificial intelligence with the help of sensors," she added.
To get things off the ground, the Chennai-based group has come up with an application like a prototype, which is also called 'Sagaa'-a Tamil word for companion. It will be built, tested and then reworked until an acceptable outcome is achieved. For this, the organisation has done user research with visually impaired people, asking for their concerns and suggestions.
"It's in the processing stage. We need to propose it to the government, get it approved and then start it on the next level. For now, we are planning to launch it as a prototype on August 15," Aishwariya explains.
However, the current prototype cannot judge the social distancing part as it has no sensors yet, but can help with things like objects and obstacles, bus numbers, traffic signals etc. "But to make it really efficient, we are planning on a device. The next level will be starting on device development," she added.
Giving Home Vaccinations
Besides working on an application, the team also helped out these marginalised groups during COVID by ensuring door-to-door COVID tests.
'It was challenging for them to step out and get the tests done, especially during the second wave which was very brutal, so it was precarious for them. So we sent people to their homes. Besides, we used to send groceries at their doorsteps," Aishwarya said, adding that her team sent provisions to around eight districts of Tamil Nadu, which consisted of nearly 28 families.
Rehabilitating Visually Impaired
In addition, the organisation focused on the rehabilitation of people selling ice-creams in trains, chair-makers and people belonging to the poor sections.
"We provided raw materials for barfi sellers, worked on a training and business model so that such people need not to be dependant on the government. So we came up with a sustainable solution like helping them out with phenyl making, soap making, agarbati and diya making. We just provide training and they later come up with their own small businesses," she said.
As far as funding is concerned, Aishwarya says the trust receives it from the friends and whatever network it has. "We have our own set of ethics. We do not appeal on social media for funding," she said.
The young social worker said that the organisation has plans to come up with an audi- library as well wherein such people can read any content, besides textbooks. "Whatever normal human beings experience, I want them to experience the same," she added.