Indian student develops a toy for visually impaired children using open-source 3D printing

Saturday, 25 January 2014 - 3:42pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna Shadow Editorial Board
Fittle is an attempt to help children who are visually impaired learn spelling of new words and understand the shapes of objects—all through playful 3D puzzles.
Helping blind children experience learning through touch is the mission of post graduate student Tania Jain who developed Fittle a project created to do exactly that. Fittle is an educational toy which helps visually challenged children learn braille, construct words, and understand the shapes of objects—all through playful 3D puzzles.
 
The first series of Fittle is in the form of a graded curriculum (26 alphabets in English Braille, like A for Axe, B for Bell, etc.) with input from experienced educators of visually challenged kids at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India. The project has received a great response across media and competitions.
 

Fittle from Tania Jain on Vimeo.

 
Tania began her journey in the field of design as a Communication Design student at NIFT, Delhi; then went on to work as a graphic designer at CoDesign for two years, where she worked on several graphic and multi-media design projects. She joined the National Institute of Design, Gandhinagar in the discipline of New Media Design in June 2012, and is still a student there, mixing and mashing the worlds of design and technology.
 
In just the past year, Tania has been a TEDx Gateway Speaker, a finalist at IxDa Awards, 2014 (Results T.B.A in Feb), selected to be published in Communication Arts ‘14.She has also had her work published on TED blog, GOOD, TOI, Kyoorius website, Platform magazine, amongst others.
 
In an exclusive interview with dna, Tania tells us about her journey.
 
Krishna: What role do you play at Fittle?
 
Tania: Fittle is a playful braille puzzle designed for visually impaired children, that was conceptualized by me around 6 months back. Since then, I have been playing many roles related to the project, such as product designer, creative director, graphic designer, social media marketer, peon, etc.
 
Krishna: Why is the project called Fittle?
 
Tania: The name Fittle is a playful spin on the words “fit the puzzle”.
 
Krishna: Can you explain your product, briefly?

Tania: Fittle is an attempt to help children who are visually impaired learn spelling of new words and understand the shapes of objects—all through playful 3D puzzles.
 
For example, the word “fish” is constructed by joining together four puzzle blocks that have the letters F-I-S-H on them, each embossed in braille. When a child with vision impairment fits together the blocks by feeling and matching the right shapes which are designed in a way that they can only fit their right match, s/he can read the word “fish” in braille and also feel around the contours of the entire block to understand what a fish is shaped like. In this way, children with vision impairment can be taught to comprehend the shapes of objects while learning the spelling of new words.
 
A graded curriculum, 26 alphabets in English Braille, like A for Axe, B for Bell, etc. is being developed with input from experienced educators of visually challenged kids at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India.
 
Krishna: What inspired you to go forth with this idea?

Tania: I developed the concept at the DIY workshop, Hyderabad, where mentors from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as visual rehabilitation experts from LV Prasad Eye Institute, Perkins school for the Blind, etc. were present. They encouraged me to take this idea forward, as they thought that it had a lot of potential to help visually impaired children get interested in learning braille, as well as create strong word-object associations at a young age.
 
I felt the need to develop the concept further and take it to a stage where these tools could be accessed by millions of visually impaired children throughout the world. Dr. Anthony Vipin Das has been a great mentor and motivating force behind this.
 
Krishna: Has it been easy for you to market your product?
 
Tania: Since Fittle is a product for a very niche segment of people, it does not easily grasp everyone’s interest. However, once people understand the potential of the idea, they appreciate the simplicity and power of the design of Fittle, and this has helped us gain a lot of recognition among the global community.
 
 
Krishna: How many schools for the blind in the world use your product?
 
Tania: We are currently prototyping our models, and have released 4 open source models for beta testing. These have been tried at 5 blind schools in our knowledge. We hope that we have reached many more through open source distribution and 3D printing.
 
Krishna: Have you had any personal experience with blind children?
 
Tania: Interacting with visually impaired children at the DIY workshop was the first time that I was personally involved with them, and it was a great learning experience for me.
 
Krishna: Do you think your product is easy to understand?

Tania: From our initial user-testing, one can say that it does take some time and instructions for a 3–5 year old visually impaired child to learn how to use the braille puzzle, but one s/he gets a hang of it, it’s quite enjoyable and easy to play with.
 
Krishna: Are you fully satisfied with your achievement?

Tania: It’s tough to define what satisfaction and achievement could mean. I am definitely looking forward to developing the Fittle puzzles more from what they are right now. We are currently user testing and reiterating prototypes to reach the best possible design for kids. Once this is done, we hope to send them to schools for the visually impaired throughout the world.
 
Krishna: What do you hope to achieve from Fittle?

Tania: The aim of Fittle is to touch the lives of each and every visually impaired child in the world, with the joy of reading, and with the power to know what things look like.
 
Krishna: What has the experience of Fittle been like for you, personally?

Tania: It’s been a crazy journey—I never thought I would be almost running a company on my own, where the proper functioning of the project will be so critical to me, that I will take up roles that I never thought of assuming. Dr. Anthony Vipin Das has given me constant encouragement, and Debanshu Bhaumik, also part of Team Fittle, has been a great support for developing the project. It’s been an amazing learning experience of how to nurture your work, which could possibly affect the lives of millions.

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