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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Disability Friendly Able to do much more

Stefan is not like everyone else. In fact, he’s a good reminder that we are all different. Our differences, which we usually think are imperfections or flaws, make us unique. Stefan is 22, but needs a wheelchair to go about. He will never live what most call a normal life, which makes one question what amounts to normalcy.
Disability Friendly Able to do much more

We are so used to definitions that we often, in our ignorance, say things that are offensive. Stefan’s mother, Angie, commented on the way pottaya is used for someone who wears glasses. People, especially kids, use words that may not amount to profanity and yet, still hurt. The Sinhala word golu means deaf. This lead to the Borupana Junction in Moratuwa/Ratmalana to be more commonly called Golumadama Junction. It’s a name we give very little thought to. We rarely think that calling someone crazy, dumb or lame can have a negative effect on them.

However, words like moron, lame or dumb have a meaning, a meaning we have turned into an insult. This could be because we try to live in a black and white world where things are normal or abnormal. We are reluctant to accept that there is an in between where people are neither this nor that. People like Stefan, they make that in between land more real, more acceptable.


During a time when many talk about abilities and disabilities and those who are differently-able, a question of who we are comes up. Are any of us perfect? Can we do everything? Some can write, others can swim. We have our own talents, which society may not agree with. For instance, a male hairdresser may be mocked for liking a feminine profession. He may be called an outcast just because he prefers to come up with new hairdos than study the mechanism of a vehicle.

One of the social definitions of abnormality is statistical infrequency. Here it is explained that the behaviors and thinking patterns demonstrated by the majority of the population are considered normal. This obviously means that behaviors and thinking patters demonstrated by the minority are considered abnormal. In most countries worshiping a god is considered normal. Thus atheism could be considered abnormal. In a nation where many have lost their limbs at battle, walking is a behavior of the minority. Does this mean walking is an abnormality?

Normal or not, we all have our limitations and need to accept them. Not everyone can write novels or poems. Not everyone can paint beautiful landscapes. Not everyone can capture those perfect moments. We need to identify our talents and work towards perfecting them. Stephan isn’t someone we should feel sorry for. We shouldn’t feel sorry for the Deane family, in that Sri Lankan way of saying pau or sin.

Born a quadriplegic, Stefan is also visually impaired. Did this make his parents Maliq and Angie Deane give up on their son? Instead of hiding Stefan away from society, as many people do, the Deanes didn’t hesitate to take Stefan to places many of us, who can see, who can walk, haven’t gone. Stefan’s brother, Dimitri, says he never felt he was missing out on anything, and his voice, the manner in which he talks about his brother, shows how much he loves Stefan.

While one cannot doubt how strong the Deane family has been, having faced so many hardships and difficulties, the biggest barrier would be how inaccessible Sri Lanka is. We live in a nation where anyone who isn’t ‘normal’ is hidden away from the world. The reason for this is ignorance. Many are ignorant of the fact that people are no less human just because they can’t walk or speak or see.

Society is such that a child who is differently- able is seen as a shame, deserving of pity and not love.

In fact, Maliq Deane spoke about an instant when a friend commented that there were so many differently -able people in Australia. We assume that just because we don’t see them in Sri Lanka, they don’t exist. This applies to many things, and mainly the differently- able.

Our nation is yet to be disability friendly. Very few organizations have parking space or restroomsfor the handicapped. When pregnant women get into a bus, there are at least a few awkward seconds before someone offers a seat. It’s the same with people who walk with the aid of crutches; that is if the bus driver or conductor lets them enter the bus. People happily ignore those yellow stickers that say a particular seat is meant for the pregnant or disabled.

Yet, while the nation seems to be miles away from being disability friendly, we have taken steps forward. Vehicles with ramps are available in the country, and most stores have ramps. Road crossings, parking, traveling has been made easier and people are more aware of the differently-able. We need to be patient and caring. Yes, you may have to take short steps when walking behind a man with a limp, and yet, it is our duty to be patient. Do not shove them around when walking past them.

I spoke to Ishan Jalil, who was born blind. Today he is a Champion of Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ishan has completed Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations at the Faculty of Arts. He is the president of Young Voices- Sri Lanka an organization advocating for rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) supported by Leonard Cheshire Disability. Ishan is also a Senator in the Sri Lanka Youth Parliament, a youth activist and a Rotaractor. Ishan feels that even though there is a long way forward, there have been many improvements that have taken place in the past decade or so in terms of securing rights of persons with disabilities. ‘Sri Lanka has signed the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Even though we haven’t ratified it, the very fact that we have signed this key convention itself is an achievement,’ says Ishan.

Especially in the education sector, there have been many improvements. Students with disabilities now sit alongside their colleagues in classrooms, join extra-curricular activities and more often than not pass exams with top grades.  Furthermore, more and more universities and schools are becoming accessible to students with disabilities.

Dr Samitha Samanmali is a practicing doctor at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka who is a wheelchair user. Unlike Ishan, she wasn’t born with her disability. On February 15, 2008 Samitha, then a 24-year-old fourth year undergraduate of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Colombo, met with an accident while preparing for the Dayata Kirula Exhibition at the BMICH causing severe damage to her spinal cord. Her lower body was paralyzed for life. But three years later she has now successfully completed her MBBS degree and assumed duties as a doctor. She feels that there is increased awareness now about rights of persons with disabilities but feels that Sri Lanka needs more ‘disabled role models’.  She feels that if there were such role models, it will help further ease the stigma surrounding disability.

Isuru Saminda is a recent graduate of the Faculty of Science of the University of Colombo. Isuru has hearing impairment. Talking to me in sign language, Isuru explained that even though there have been substantial improvements for wheelchair users and the visually impaired, the deaf community is still highly neglected.

Source : The Nation , 26th Jan 2014

Adalat brings cheer to many : Kochi

About 15 persons had approached the adalat with the request for land and house 


The complaint redressal adalat of the State Commissionerate for Persons with Disabilities at Kakkanad on Saturday was the last resort for many who had been paying futile visits to government offices for months and even years.

The disabled couple Jisha and Sajeev finally received a positive outcome at the adalat after numerous visits to the KSRTC offices. They had been visiting the Angamaly KSRTC office for a long to get their travel pass issued. They were surprised when the adalat, presided over by the State

Commissioner for the Disabled Ahmed Pillai, made arrangements to collect their pass for free travel from the Angamaly office. Daily labourer Lasser whose two daughters and sister suffer from chronic diseases also had reasons to cheer when the adalat promised the needful by handing over his complaint to the Handicapped Persons Welfare Corporation. More than 140 of the 240-odd complaints received were settled at the adalat. Various departments, including social security mission, the police, collectorate, civil supplies, Handicapped Persons Welfare Corporation, health, education, KSRTC, and district panchayat had set up counters at the venue of the adalat. A decision was taken to extent financial assistance to build houses for those with two cents or more. About 15 persons had approached the adalat with the request for land and house.

Complaints regarding the issue of disability pension, medical certificate, identity card, and conversion of above poverty line cards to below poverty line category were considered at the adalat. Guidance and opportunities were given to about 25 persons for self-employment.

Source : The Hindu , 26th Jan 2014

Taliban Declares War on Polio Workers

Pakistan’s militancy problem goes beyond persecution of religious minorities. Somehow polio workers have come under the crosshairs of militants, becoming another “soft” target for militants to strike. Just this past weekend four polio workers and six police officers designated to protect them were killed.

Pakistan is one of the only three countries in the world where the disease is still endemic, and the attacks on health workers have crippled their capacity to continue with immunization drives. (It also doesn’t help that polio workers are reportedly paid only about $2.50 a day.)

The Taliban have also outlawed vaccinations from taking place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the region that the World Health Organization says is most susceptible to the disease. Conspiracy theories have always surrounded polio vaccinations, but they got a boost in popularity when a doctor posed as a polio vaccinator in Abbottabad to collect DNA samples of Osama bin Laden for the CIA (the doctor is currently languishing in prison). Many parents refuse to have their children vaccinated when health workers knock on their door. As a result, reported polio cases have risen by more than half from 58 in 2012 to 91 in 2013, and new cases have reportedly surfaced in Syria that trace to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, India, which had the highest number of polio cases in the world just a decade ago, was recently declared polio-free, without a single case reported.

Source : The American Interest , 24th Jan 2014 

Technology making a difference for people with disabilities

Chandra Hottinger, who is blind, demonstrates how she navigates through her iPad and how it can help her with day-to-day activities. The Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities helped Hottinger get her iPad.

Chandra Hottinger, who is blind, demonstrates how she navigates through her iPad and how it can help her with day-to-day activities. The Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities helped Hottinger get her iPad
Chandra Hottinger’s day begins when the alarm on her iPad wakes her.
She uses the tablet to listen to music or audio books before she goes to sleep. When she’s working or spending time at home, the device never is out of reach.

“I don’t even want to think about not having it,” she said. “I’d be lost.”

For Hottinger, who is blind, getting the iPad in September drastically changed her daily life. Using the device’s VoiceOver function and a variety of apps designed for the visually impaired, she’s been able to stay more connected to her family and friends and accomplish tasks more efficiently.

“I’m amazed by it. There is so much I can do,” she said. “I think it would help with other disabilities, too.”

The iPad is one of several devices that have made a big difference for people with physical and developmental disabilities in the past few years, said Nancy Neely, superintendent of the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

“Just like technology has changed the average person’s life through cellphones, computers and the numerous applications we have that make our lives so much easier, all those things work for people with developmental disabilities,” she said.

Every person with a disability is different and technology gives them more options to find solutions that work for them, Neely said.

“We are able to deploy technology to help people be more competent and have more independence,” she said.

Hottinger, 27, lost her vision at birth. She was born 10 weeks early and developed the eye disease retinopathy, which caused her retinas to detach.

She only can see a small amount of light through her right eye. Her left eye was removed in 2003 to prevent further deterioration.

Hottinger learned to read braille when she was 5 and was a student in Newark City Schools for several years before transferring to the Ohio State School for the Blind in Columbus where she graduated in 2006.

“I loved it there,” she said. “I loved the fact that they had all this technology.”

After leaving school, Hottinger carried a BrailleNote, a device with a braille keyboard and display.
Although she was able to use it successfully, it didn’t hold a charge long and people often asked questions about the device.

When one of her friends told her about some of the things the iPad offered blind people, she approached her service coordinator Tom Pellett and asked him for assistance in buying one.

At first Pellett was skeptical, but Hottinger insisted it would be a good fit for her.

“I promised I’d be able to use it,” she said.

With some federal funding, the board was able to purchase the iPad Mini. After a few weeks, Hottinger had memorized the gestures she needed to use the VoiceOver technology and downloaded apps to customize her device.

“With the flexibility and the diversity of the iPad, you can put it in someone’s hands and there are so many different things they can do,” said Matt Young, information technology manager for the board. “In the past, devices were thousands of dollars more than the iPad and could only do one thing.”

Neely can remember a time when families had to write letters and grants to get a piece of technology because of the cost. Many devices were large and hard to transport.

Now tablets, such as iPads, and other devices are replacing communication boards for children and adults who are nonverbal. The board’s physical therapists are able to bring iPad’s to their home visits and take video of a child’s progress.

Improvements to cameras and streaming also have given the board the option to offer remote monitoring to some of its clients who can live at home with minimal supervision, Neely said.

Certified agencies use the cameras to watch the clients and contact the board if they need assistance, she said.

“It makes them feel like they are so much more independent and in control of their own life,” she said.

Several other county boards have visited the Licking County board recently to observe ways the staff is implementing technology, Neely said.

Although some of the board’s senior clients aren’t interested in trying new technology, many of the adults, teens and children it serves are embracing it, she said.

“It helps them connect to friends and family and express their creativity,” she said. 

Source : Newarkadvocate , 25th Jan 2014

Art for Autism Festival in Madurai, South India.

Velvi Trust, Art for Autism Festival 2014’ Madurai, South India

On Friday Jan 17 the Velvi Trust started its ‘Art for Autism Festival 2014’. Sessions included painting, theatre and music for all on the autistic spectrum. 

Dr Parasuram Ramamoorthi, Chairman of Velvi Trust is quoted in The Hindu as saying:
“Every child and adult here has some innate skill and ability”,

He then adds that the artistic skills once identified can give the individual skills for life which can support them.

During a music therapy session children were given different musical instruments and asked to try them out.

Kavita Kumar, who is a music therapist and head of Dhoon Foundation, Delhi said:
“I use a combination of laughter and movement which helps them open up and express themselves creatively. One of the main challenges associated with autism is for the children to interact and connect which I hope to bring about”
The Hindu reports that even though the trust has been offering art sessions for autistic children for the last 7 years, they have had a poor response.

In the article Dr Parasuram stresses the need for autistic children to be able to express themselves and those children who do not speak still have skills which can be identified and encouraged.

Dr Parasuram also states:
“There is so much that these children can do and yet, time, money and resources are spent in trying to teach them what they can’t do and don’t want to learn”

Source : Autism Daily News Cast , 25th Jan 2014

Padma Shri honour for three Mumbai-based doctors : Mumbai

Three Mumbai-based doctors will receive the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award.

Oncosurgeon Dr Raman Deshpande, ENT surgeon Dr Milind Kirtane and endocrinologist Dr Shashank Joshi have been named among the persons chosen to receive the award for their contribution in the field of medicine.

The names were announced on the occasion of Republic Day. They will receive the awards from the President, Pranab Mukherjee, at a function in Delhi in March or April. 

Dr Milind Kirtane has been practicising at the privately-run Hinduja Hospital, Mahim, for four decades. During his long career, he has treated about 1,600 children who had a hearing disability and are now able to hear.

“My work is concentrated around conducting cochlear implants for the deaf. Since 1995, our team has trained doctors from across India, including public hospitals like KEM, Sion and Nair, to conduct such implants,” said Kirtane. This could help many of the 2-3 million people in the country who are deaf. About 90% of them are children.

Dr Shashank Joshi, has been recognised for his efforts in research and clinical care in endocrinology, particularly diabetes. He practices at the Lilavati Hospital, Bandra.

“Currently. There are 65 million diabetics in India. Today, we are next only to China in the number of people with diabetes. I have been advocating the prevention of diabetes through eating less, eating right, walking more, sleeping well and smiling more. We are designing guidelines for physicians to treat diabetes, rather than following foreign models,” Dr Joshi said.

Source : DNA India , 26th Jan 2014

Children With Special Gifts From the Lord Make Music Video to Show Us What Friendship is All About

D-Pan Special Needs Children

These special children with gifts from the Lord show us what friendship is all about in this wonderful music video created by D-Pan ASL (Deaf Professional Arts Network). Each one of these precious kids uses sign language to show us what friendship is. The music in the background is "We're going to be friends," by the White Stripes.

D-PAN has said it made the music video to become more accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Watch this heartwarming video that teaches us that God gives us all beautiful gifts even when we don't realize!

Source : Christian Post , 25th Jan 2014

Artist with autism spectrum disorder proves good role model at Good Purpose gallery

Justin Canha is a Renaissance artist whose work ranges from thumbnail-sized cartoon replicas penciled onto pages of well-worn composition books to large-scale colorful carnivorous plants created with charcoal and pastels.

Justin Canha, 24, a Montclair, N.J.-based artist, who also happens to have autism, led a cartooning workshop for other students with autism from the

Justin Canha, 24, a Montclair, N.J.-based artist, who also happens to have autism, led a cartooning workshop for other students with autism from the Berkshire College Internship Program.


The 24-year-old from Montclair, N.J., made his way to the Good Purpose Gallery on Main Street in Lee on Friday afternoon to host a cartooning workshop for students of the Berkshire College Internship Program (CIP), and to later greet people at an artist reception in the evening. His work will be on display until Feb. 5.

Much like a professor, Canha paced between tables of students -- some only a few years younger than he -- looking over their shoulders at their work. Though mostly silent, he would, at times exclaim a comment of approval, and even crack a smile -- "Wow! You work fast," he told a young man in a maroon hat.

In another moment, he would frown when he caught a student improvising their own character instead of the one listed in the handout. "You're supposed to be drawing Donkey," he told a young woman who inked her own character onto her sheet of drawing paper.

But, she didn't argue. "OK," she said.

As Canha swiftly swept through his tutorial, the rest of the young adults, 18-year-olds to 20-somethings, kept rapt attention to the drawing board and their respective pages.

Around the room's periphery, a group of educators, counselors and a filmmaker watched with keen interest the organic connections between Canha and the students being made before them.

Aside from a love for art, Canha and most of the students attending the workshop also share a place on the autism spectrum.

The autism refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that a person with autism spectrum disorders can have, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In terms of learning and expression, this generally means that people with this diagnosis may not think or behave in the same manner as most of their typical peers.

Because of this, students with autism may have trouble in school or fitting in with their peers, and may struggle with things like school work and bullying.

But on Friday, Canha and the CIP students all proved that though they may seem a little different than others, they're still fully capable of being artists, writers and creative thinkers and workers.

Canha was profiled and this issue was highlighted in a 2011 New York Times article, "Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World." The article stated that at the time, "some 200,000 autistic teenagers [are] set to come of age in the United States over the next five years alone."

Melissa Wish, who works with Canha and promotes his art, is also the mother of two young boys, one who is also on the autism spectrum. She told The Eagle Canha not only teaches her son Max, 6, about art, but also talks to the boy about being healthy and making good decisions.

"He's a role model," said Wish of Canha. "He has given me so much hope and taught me to not underestimate my own child."

Canha says he's always loved drawing and would sneak his composition books and mechanical pencils to work on his art, a process he began in 2003.

"The things they taught were boring. Drawing kept things more interesting," he said.

Asked if he showed his drawings to his classmates and teachers, Canha said, "I tried, but they told me it was distracting."

So, he would do his work in his room every night.

At Montclair High School, Canha got involved with a "transition to adulthood" program for special education students, which ultimately led him to securing a day job at a Mr. Cupcakes bakery. Canha said baking is another favorite creative outlet.

"I really want to create a birthday cake because it's an icon of birthday celebrations," he said.

In addition to baking, Canha also draws for children's birthday parties, exhibits his art in professional galleries, volunteers at places like children's hospitals, and makes pet portraits. Canha's art, autism, and transition into adulthood are the core themes of a documentary film, "Don't Foil My Plans" directed by Ben Stamper, who filmed Friday in Lee.

Travis McArthur, an admissions counselor for CIP Berkshire, said students' demands for scheduled time and projects in the creative arts fields prompted the Berkshire program to hire a full-time creative arts coordinator to develop a specific creative arts track for students, in addition to the college and career programs CIP offers.

Of the 54 students enrolled in CIP Berkshire, half are involved in some creative arts program, be it theater in CIP's Spectrum Playhouse, studio art, filmmaking or music. McArthur said about 12 students are on a dedicated full-time creative arts track.

Ellen Orell, 21, a CIP student, said the creative arts track is flexible, allowing students to pursue their interests and pitch program and project ideas.

"It allows a constructive and creative outlet for me. I don't know how else to put it, but it makes me feel appreciated," she said.

As a national organization, CIP offers art contest opportunities, and also publishes "ReFrame," an art  and literary magazine of students' work. Last year, Orell won recognition in a national art contest for a painting she created from a poem she wrote.

"The poem is called ‘A Story of My Past.' It's sort of about bullying," she said.

Orell said she and her fellow students were interested in attending Canha's cartooning workshop to see how a young artist like him worked.

‘It's such a cool opportunity for them," said CIP Berkshire creative arts coordinator Kyle Goldman. She said like Canha, the CIP arts students also learn all sides of the art world, from creating art, film and theater, to marketing it and coordinating the showing of work. On Feb. 21, for example, CIP Berkshire will partner with Community Reso-urces for People with Autism to co-present a variety show and benefit for arts programs.

For Orell, Canha and all the other students, validation of whatever abilities they have is the key to their success.

"I have autism," said Canha, "but my ability is to draw, and drawing can be my real hope in life."

To learn more about Justin Canha:

 To learn more about the Good Purpose Gallery:

To learn more about CIP Berkshire:

Source : Berkshire Eagle , 26th Jan 2014

RIT/NTID Students Developing Applications for Leap Motion 3-D Sensor Accepted into Business Accelerator

A team of students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf has received $25,000 and acceptance into Leap Motion’s LEAP AXLR8R in San Francisco to help further their work on a program that will help deaf and hearing people communicate more easily.

The team, MotionSavvy, is developing applications for the Leap Motion 3-D sensor, which was released in July. Leap Motion recognizes the slightest hand movements. The students are developing an application that will translate a hand shape into a text letter of the alphabet in sign language.

With more work, the team plans to develop applications that will enable the device to translate sign language into words and sentences. The device could be used in retail settings or government agencies where brief personal interaction is needed.

Arvind Gupta, founder and director of the LEAP AXLR8R, said admission to the program was “extremely selective” and he was impressed by MotionSavvy’s pitch via Skype.

“I’m very excited about MotionSavvy and everything they’re trying to do,” Gupta said. “It’s people helping themselves and helping others through technology.”

Motion Savvy is one of 10 teams accepted in the program. Each team is using Leap Motion technology to develop a product or business and can benefit through technical support to help establish their business.

“We have a partnership with the Leap Motion company, giving us access to engineers that will help the team really push the development and design of what the students are doing,” Gupta said. “The teams will go and find out what its core audience is and how to match it to what the needs are.”

The classes begin Feb. 3 and conclude the first week of May, when teams will show their business products and concepts to potential investors.

“Their demonstration prototype was very impressive. I think they have the potential to make meaningful changes to the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people,” Gupta said. “Simple communication can be extremely difficult for them. This could enable people to have a new way of communicating with the world.”

The students, Ryan Hait-Campbell, a new media design major from Seattle; Alex Opalka, a computer engineering technology major from Glastonbury, Conn.; Wade Kellard, a mechanical engineering technology major from Cincinnati; and Jordan Stemper, an industrial design major from Waukesha, Wis., were accepted in and completed RIT’s Summer Start-Up course for new businesses at RIT’s Saunders College of Business and the Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“We’re trying to break communication barriers,” said Hait-Campbell. “That’s why I think it’s going to succeed, because a lot of people are behind it, and we’re all deaf.” He grew up with painful memories of being one of a few deaf students in his large school and not being able to fully communicate with others. “I don’t want others having to experience that.”

The students were able to work with the Leap Motion technology even before it was made public, thanks to a pre-release device secured for them by Professor Stephen Jacobs, associate director of RIT’s Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interactivity and Creativity who had connections in the company. MAGIC was the first direct funder of the team’s development efforts and also helped them get additional support from the National Science Foundation over the summer.

In the months that followed, the students have approached government agencies, area businesses and hospitals to determine whether there is interest in their product.

The team has also been out asking potential donors to invest in MotionSavvy and will apply for grants. The money will be used to expand the product for the next five years to accomplish some of the team’s goals, including expanding a sign language database with up to 20,000 signs.

“We’ll need money for research and development of the product and determining how we can improve the existing services and break into new markets,” Opalka said.

Source : azosensors , 25th Jan 2014

Disabled and disadvantaged in Dubai

Besides the My Community initiative, a lot needs to be done to make Dubai a disabled-friendly city.

 It took Mohammed Al Marzouqi seven years to get a job. The Emirati man, who is married with a beautiful five-year-old daughter, sunk to the depths of despair, before a government programme — and some family contacts — came through. Why the struggle in a country with a booming economy and so great a need for workers they ship most of them in?

Sultan Essa, Rashid Al Marzouqi and Mohammed Al Marzouqi discuss issues faced by people with disabilities. - KT photo by Amanda Fisher
Sultan Essa, Rashid Al Marzouqi and Mohammed Al Marzouqi discuss issues faced by people with disabilities.

“We can’t manage to find jobs, it’s very hard for us,” says the mildly intellectually disabled man, referring to people with disabilities.

Mohammed, 34, speaks English with ease. He even spent a year in the United Kingdom learning the language. Since 2010 he has worked at car dealer Al Ghandi Auto, securing spare parts for customers.

“I like it…sometimes I have fun (but) sometimes it’s very hard.”

He says some at work treat him differently because of his disability. But he’s glad to have this job, given his doubts he was even considered for earlier jobs.

“They don’t include us with the CVs, they throw them away.”

As Dubai looks to position itself as a disability-friendly city by 2020, through the My Community initiative launched last November by Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, there are many steps to be taken — the most important of which, according to 28-year-old Rashid Al Marzouqi, is in the mind.

“I think it’s doable, but we need more accessibility and we need to change the mindsets of people…also for parents to let their disabled children (integrate in society), not isolate them.”

The young Emirati, who has cerebral palsy, is uniquely positioned. He works for the Community Development Authority’s (CDA) Al Kayt programme — named after a traditional Emirati rescue boat — as a Community Care Executive, helping place people like Mohammed in jobs.

People with disabilities are often treated like children, he says.

“The way that some people talk it’s like talking to a child, or some people will stare at you. I want people to think about the abilities and not the disabilities, and to give them the same rights as they would give any other human being.”

He says employers should remain open-minded about hiring those with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities.

“People with intellectual disabilities are good at organisational skills — just give them a chance.”Bizarrely, some with disabilities are too qualified for roles.

“It’s difficult for the highly-qualified to find work because the jobs they want people with disabilities to do are very limited, like maybe in a contact centre. We have a few on our website that are very qualified...and it’s very difficult for us to get them jobs.”

The astute young man, who adopts the role as translator during our interview for those whose English falters, acknowledges he has been lucky.

He began working at the CDA as an intern while still at the Dubai Centre for Special Needs. Three months later, in May 2010, they offered him a job.

The eldest of three boys and two girls, Rashid says his family is very supportive. While not married yet, he hopes one day to have a family of his own.

Turning Dubai into a disability-friendly city will require action across different government sectors.

“There are a lot of services that need to be implemented to make Dubai disability-friendly (including) the laws. Places in Dubai should be accessible for people with disabilities, also…the health system and education system (need work).”

A major impediment for disabled job-seekers, is that special needs education centres do not offer any accreditation or graduation certificates.

“The certificates they give you are a report at the end of the year, but it’s not recognised by the Ministry (of Labour)…(before this job) I contacted one or two companies…by the time they hear you don’t have a certificate, they finish the call.”

But Zahra Al Balooshi’s resume glitters; she has worked in four different jobs over 17 years. In two weeks she will gain a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources and Business, to add to her Higher

Diploma in Human Resources.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority senior executive, who works in the metering and equipment section, has worked previously for United Bank Ltd, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, and Dubai International Financial Centre, in spite of a paralysis on the left side of her body.

“Before I started work I was really shy, I was sitting at home…and not dealing with people very much. When I started working I was still shy but after some years I encouraged myself to change my attitude, everything.”

Working has even changed how she views herself.

“I do not see myself as special needs. I’m like other people, I don’t have any problems…I have more opportunities (even), better than people (without disabilities). They don’t have the future we have.”
The 40-year-old says triumphing over her disability means she is better equipped than most to deal with challenges and keep an open mind — she is hungry to learn and always asks supervisors for more work.

“I don’t think to go shopping or go out with friends, I’m always looking to improve myself and do better for myself…I don’t miss anything, I’m not less than anyone.”
Regular physio has even helped her regain movement.

While attitudes toward disabilities have improved over the years, Zahra says there is a long way to go.

She wants more schools for disabled children and funding to help with medical bills.
Another Emirati, Sultan Essa, is worried about his future job prospects. The 26-year-old, who has muscle atrophy, says it took two years to get a job.

“I think it’s because I’m a person with disabilities, and also my English is only a little.”
Sultan, who completed Grade 9 at Dubai High School, says at times he worried he would never get a job.

His Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority clerk job came through the Al Kayt programme several years ago.

While he feels as qualified as anyone for a promotion — which he is yet to get — “the community is closed. They think that because I have a disability I will need lots of days off”.

Sultan says he works on off days just to prove himself.

“I love my job but I want new challenges and responsibilities… I do the same job as other people whose title is (better).”

He also wants employers to support disabled staff to study further.

“People with special needs are usually late with their education…so when we’re in our jobs we have the money and we want to continue education, but we don’t have the time.”

The Dubai local is a keen sprinter, but improving accessibility and attitudes for people with disabilities is more likely to be a marathon.

In the past three years, the Al Kayt programme has placed 50 people with disabilities in jobs — but there are still 140 on their list.

 My Community

Dr Bushra Al Mulla, Director of the CDA’s Dubai Early Childhood Development Centre, says ‘My Community’ has crucial backing from His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, which means all government departments must get in line with several years-old laws enshrining rights for the disabled.

The five core ‘My Community’ pillars are: (1) to prepare a draft regulation that will compel all sectors to undertake disability-friendly modifications like wheelchair access; (2) establish a hotline to report negligence and discrimination; (3) develop services for people with disabilities, such as leadership training programmes; and (4) make government departments conversant in sign language as well as (5) braille.

However, until the regulation is passed — expected sometime this year — there is no legal basis for the Dubai Municipality to force private entities to become disability-friendly.

“In seven years we have to have a full plan on how to implement other things than just these five.”

The CDA is already meeting with NGOs and others in the sector, which has highlighted a major problem — a severe shortage of professionals qualified to teach and rehabilitate the disabled.

“Specialist services, like speech therapy and occupational therapy, are lacking in the UAE, we always bring them from outside…we have to create new (tertiary) programmes and build our own capacity.”

Al Mulla acknowledges there needs to be more early intervention, while all sectors, such as health, education and social services, must work to provide an integrated model. When a disabled person reaches 18, the age of school end, services also end.

“There is a gap...after 18 the centres have to graduate them and they go back into their homes.”

Al Mulla says the authority will work with the Ministry of Education to implement accredited equivalent educational programmes or modified curricula into special needs education, so work opportunities open up.

The CDA’s vision also includes training families of disabled children to ensure discrimination does not start in the home — “children (are often) excluded at home if the family does not have the right tools”.

If Dubai is to truly become a disability-friendly city, between now and 2020 there must be efforts both from the top down and the bottom up to ensure “My Community” becomes more than just lip service.

By : Amanda fisher
Email :

Source : khaleej Times , 19th Jan 2014 

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Few companies willing to hire disabled: activists : Chennai

Recruit candidates for internships and learn about their strength and needs, experts tell firms


Six years after he graduated from an engineering college in Nagercoil, 26-year-old Paunraj has finally managed to get a job here.

“From being a telephone operator to remaining unemployed for months, I have faced everything,” said the systems analyst, who has a physical disability and who was recruited by Flextronics last year. “The call from the company came when I was completely distraught. Now everything is fine, as the company has not only given me a separate toilet, but has also arranged for easy an commute,” he said.

Not everyone has a story like Paunraj’s. Of the 650 companies in the city, barely 30 are willing to recruit persons with disabilities, activists said. And in many cases, the online aptitude test adopted by companies to filter candidates only adds to the woes of the disabled.

Speaking at a meeting organised by Leonard Cheshire Disability recently, activists spoke about the need to sensitise companies on hiring people with disabilities.

“Many company heads feel making toilets accessible for disabled people is a huge investment. Also, not many have technology that suits visually challenged people,” said Ashok Kumar, project manager, Leonard Cheshire Disability.

There is discrimination even among the disabled, he added. About 80 per cent of the candidates placed are those with locomotive disabilities, there are very few takers for visually challenged people, and even fewer for those with speech and hearing impairments.

Kala Jayashankar, mother of an engineering graduate with hearing impairment, said she has accompanied her daughter to seven job fairs until now, but her daughter has not been able to find an employer. “They have a quick online test on software concepts and general aptitude. She is not yet used to it. Also, employers give no concession to these candidates, unless they recruit under them under their corporate social responsibility scheme,” she said.

Mr. Ashok said activists were in talks with IT companies to bring in changes to their policies.

“None of the companies has apprenticeships or internships in their hiring policy. We are asking them to recruit our candidates and provide them some training to get to know their strengths, and not reject them on the basis of their online test results. Also, we have requested a few companies to train some of their HR managers in sign language,” he said. 

Source : The Hindu , 24th Jan 2014 

Job prospects brighten for disabled Nepalese : NEPAL

 Job ads in Nepal encourage women, minorities and persons with disabilities to apply, but few physically challenged people actually submit an application.

Annual job fair showcases skills, employability of the disabled.


Disabled people register their CVs at the second annual job and career fair for the physically challenged on December 3rd at the World Trade Centre in Kathmandu. [Ashutosh Tiwari/Khabar]
Disabled people register their CVs at the second annual job and career fair for the physically challenged on December 3rd at the World Trade Centre in Kathmandu


Water Aid Nepal country director Ashutosh Tiwari is hoping to change that.

The sight of a non-handicapped person demonstrating how to construct toilets for physically challenged people at an equity and inclusion workshop in Ethiopia spurred Tiwari into action.

"I wondered: should not a physically challenged person be doing the job?" Tiwari, who also heads the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN), told Khabar South Asia. "Then I realised very few people with disabilities believe such jobs are within their reach, and organisations too do not bother to seek them out."

AIN formed an alliance with the National Federation of the Disabled - Nepal, the Ministry of Women, Social Welfare and Children and other groups. Together, they launched annual job fairs for disabled persons starting in December 2012. Out of 1,000 physically challenged people who attended, 28 found jobs.

The second annual fair was held at Kathmandu's World Trade Centre on December 3rd.

Suraj Thapa, a 25-year-old from Biratnagar, landed a job with Siddhartha Development Bank after attending the inaugural fair.

"I am very happy to be employed and earning for myself," he told Khabar. "The belief that disabled people should stay within the four walls of their houses and be dependent on other people is changing."

This year the fair added coaching services to help applicants write CVs and prepare for interviews. More than 25 stalls showcased products and services created by or catering to disabled people.

"We are planning to hire at least 100 people this time," National Federation of the Disabled-Nepal President Sudarshan Subedi told Khabar.

Similar fairs are being organised for the industrial areas of Biratnagar and Birgunj.

According to National Population and Housing Census 2011, 1.94% of the total population of Nepal, or around 514,000 people, have some kind of disability.

"Life as a physically challenged employee is not easy, but being employed is a remarkable achievement. I am happy that physically challenged people are no more restricted to jobs related to activism only," Amrita Gyawali, a disabled people's rights activist and Water Aid Nepal employee, told Khabar. 

Source :  Khabar South Asia , 24th Jan 2014

Salman's NGO backs campaign for disabled : New Delhi

Superstar Salman Khan's Being Human Foundation has joined hands with a news channel to launch Veer, a two-month-long media campaign showcasing case examples of Persons with Disabilities (PwD), who have succeeded in their endeavours on the strength of their self-belief.

Aerated drink Thums Up has joined hands with its brand ambassador Salman's Being Human Foundation and CNN-IBN for the campaign, which has American India Foundation (AIF) as implementation partners.

The initiative aims to reach out to PwDs with skill training and employment opportunities. It will also raise advocacy on issues revolving around inclusiveness, employability of PwDs and workplace accessibility.

In its first phase, the campaign aims to collect funds to train and economically empower at least 1,000 PwDs.

"Together with Thums Up, Being Human has launched Veer, a campaign that recognises the potential of differently abled individuals and provides them with a level playing field," Salman, who starred in a 2010 film of the same name as the campaign, said in a statement.

Towards the cause, several panel discussions are set to be held with participation from noted names from the government, corporates, NGOs, policy makers and donors of the campaign to discuss on the way forward to empower the country's specially-abled.

The launch episode of Veer, which will be aired Saturday, will introduce the viewers to the idea behind the campaign and it will tell how every Indian can get involved.

The series with four episodes will run in conjunction with digital platforms.

Source : Business Standard , 24th Jan 2014

Google Glass For People With Disabilities: Indiegogo Campaign Aims To Modify Device To Improve Lives Of Disabled Users

 Google Glass

An Indiegogo campaign is seeking to raise funds in order to modify Google Glass to improve the lives of people with disabilities. (Photo: Creative Commons)


Google Glass for People With Disabilities is an Indiegogo campaign aiming to modify the wearable device in order to improve the lives of disabled users. While Google Glass was designed for a mainstream market, many of its features are proving wildly advantageous for individuals with various disabilities, ranging from vision impairment to paraplegia. The project creator, Andy Lin, is a technology specialist at a center for applied rehabilitation technology. He hopes to use the funds to purchase an Explorer headset and further research how to alter Glass for the disabled population.

"In its current iteration, Google Glass may not be the most accessible device due to its limited hands-free capability and user interface. Thus, I will explore what modifications may be needed to be done and begin to develop new applications for it that are specifically catered to the individuals with disabilities that I work with on a daily basis. Any excess funds beyond the purchase price will be solely used for this project."
Using Google Glass as a tool to improve the lives of those with disabilities is not a novel notion. In fact, Google spotlights Glass Explorer Alex Blaszczuk, who was paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident. Blaszczuk shares her experiences with the wearable camera and how it allowed her to take part in activities she hadn't been able to since her accident, including camping and photography. Several Google Glass features can be expanded on to help people with disabilities.
Voice Activated Commands

Google Glass voice activated commands are incredibly beneficial to people with disabilities. The hands-free form factor allows paraplegics to easily stay connected without using their hands. By simply speaking to the headset ("Ok Glass..."), they can take part in a variety of online activities, like sending messages, checking messages, recording video, getting directions, taking photos, making phone calls, etc.
"I could cite academic papers for you, but Larry says it best, 'With Glass, we are reducing the time between intention and action,'" wearable tech pioneer Thad Starner says. "Glass keeps you in the flow of what you're doing, and for people with disabilities, that's even more vital. Suddenly someone isolated at home is more fluent with (text) messages than their friends with a mobile phone. It really can change lives."
Environmental & Facial Recognition

The facial recognition technology for devices like Google Glass is here, but privacy concerns have caused many to be weary of such applications. However, for individuals with vision impairment, environmental and facial recognition capabilities using Google Glass could radically improve their lifestyles. This software can help alert wearers of their surroundings as well as identify people. It's a non-invasive solution to blindness that can aid all parties involved.

"Glass will be revolutionary for the disabled,"
says Rosalind Picard, founder of the Affective Computing Research Group at MIT's Media Lab. "With facial analytics, it's possible to, with the subject's approval, have Glass scan a face and put up a green light if the person is intrigued, yellow if they're confused or red if they're bored."
Wink To Take a Photograph
One of the latest Google Glass upgrades allows users to wink to take photos. For people with disabilities, such as paraplegia, this can bring back the joys of photography, videography and the like. All in all, the hands-free form factor and revolutionary software capable of integrating with Glass can fundamentally improve the lives of wearers - people with disabilities, who have vision impairment or can't use their hands, can now experience the world in ways they couldn't before.

"I'm a little frustrated with (Glass), not because it's something I can't use, but because with trivial modifications I would use it all the time,"
says Sina Bahram, founder of disability-focused Prime Access Consulting in Cary, N.C., and a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at North Carolina State University. "It's not pie in the sky. For me, Glass could be an amazing conduit to the outside world."

The Google Glass for People with Disabilities Indiegogo campaign is seeking to raise funds in order to bridge these gaps and tweak Glass to perfection so that all individuals can reap its benefits. The project currently has four days left, with $1,575 raised of it's $1,650 goal.

Source : International Digital Times , 24th Jan 2014

Thums Up, Being Human & AIF launch "VEER"

Living up to its toofani message of unleashing the potential within, India’s most iconic brand Thums Up has come together with brand ambassador Salman Khan’s Being Human Foundation and
CNN-IBN to launch Campaign VEER – Unleashing the Inner Potential of Persons with Disabilities. With the American India Foundation (AIF) coming on board as Implementation Partners, VEER is set to be a two-month long media campaign showcasing case examples of Persons with Disabilities (PwD) who have succeeded in their endeavors on the strength of their self belief, despite environmental and attitudinal barriers.

The initiative aims to reach out to more than 1000 PwDs with skill training and employment opportunities and will also raise advocacy on issues revolving around inclusiveness, employability of PwDs and workplace accessibility. In its first phase, this special campaign aims to collect funds to train and economically empower at least 1,000 PwDs.

Speaking about the campaign, Salman Khan, Founder of Being Human and Face of Campaign VEER said, “Together with Thums Up, Being Human has launched Veer, a campaign that recognizes the potential of differently abled individuals and provides them with a level playing field. We are thankful to CNN-IBN and AIF for their support".

Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN, IBN7 and IBN-Lokmat, said, “We at IBN Network firmly believe that journalism has to be truly inclusive. As part of this commitment, we are very proud to announce VEER in association with Thums up, American India Foundation and Being Human.”

VEER will address challenges such as inclusive education and employment, skill training and development, and advocating for disabled-friendly technology. Towards this, several panel discussions are set to be held with participation from the who’s who from  government, corporate, NGOs, policy makers/ think tanks and donors of the campaign to discuss on the way forward to empower the ‘specially-abled’ of the country. Key takeaways from these discussions would be compiled into a ‘Vision Document’ and presented to the government.

AIF will impart vocational training to these individuals and ascertain their requirements so that they can be made job-ready. As outlined by AIF, INR 7,500 is all it takes to train an individual with disability to make him/her employable.

Speaking about the initiative, Debabrata Mukherjee, VP-Marketing & Commercial, Coca-Cola India said, “Thums Up as a brand believes that everybody has the potential within, it's just that one needs to nudge himself and take the leap of faith that can change his reality. In continuation with the same belief, through the campaign VEER, we would like to offer specially abled persons a platform to unleash their own potential. We are very glad that partners like CNN-IBN,  Being Human and American India Foundation have joined hands and we hope that together we will be able to make a positive difference”

Hemanth Paul, Country Director, AIF, said, “Irrespective of whether you are a person with disability or not, economic independence is a critical thing for everyone. We need to mould persons with disability from being a liability to an asset. At the American India Foundation, we have been working on the whole livelihood space for the last eight years to make such people financially independent.”

The launch episode of VEER will introduce the viewers to the idea behind starting this campaign and reveal how every Indian can get involved. On the show, eminent voices such as disability rights activist Javed Habibi; actor-activist Rahul Bose; Deepak Jolly, VP Communication & Public Affairs at Coca-Cola; Hemanth Paul, Country Director, AIF; para table-tennis champion Suvarna Raj; and Pankaj Dubey, MD, Polaris India, will discuss the need for a campaign like VEER.

The series with four episodes will run in conjunction with digital platforms. A dedicated call centre- 0120-4019191, a website -, and a mobile app – VEER has been set up to enable people to make contributions. One can also send an SMS, ‘VEER’ to 51818 to know more about the initiative and make individual donations.
Don’t forget to watch the special series on

Saturday, 25th January at 2:00pm and 10:30pm (R), Sunday, 26th January at 12:00noon and 6:00pm (R) on CNN-IBN and Saturday 25th January at 1:00pm and Sunday, 26th January at 6:00pm (R) on IBN7

Source :  Indian Television , 25th  Jan 2014

Attrition by disabled in Indian retail half than normal staff

Monthly attrition among persons with disabilities (PwD) in Indian retail is half compared to the industry figure of 6.8%, said a study by US-based Accenture and Pankh, an organisation set up by TRRAIN-Youth4jobs Foundation.

There are 70 million PwDs in the country but less than 1% is employed in the retail sector, says a study


There are 70 million PwDs in the country but less than 1% is employed in the retail sector. Their monthly attrition among them is 3.3%, the study said.

"Lower attrition further compounded by EPF/ESI benefit rewarded by the governments to organisations for employment of PwD can lead to benefit as high as 8% annual salary of the employee," said the study.

Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, who released white paper on the subject today said Future has employed about 70-100 disabled people and wants to have 5% of total employee base coming from PwDs.

"We need to create sensitivity among colleagues about disabled people. We should create pride among such people," he said.

Source : Business Standard , 22nd Jan 2014

Quality of Care for autism in UK needs consistency, warns NICE

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has called for a standardised level of care for autism in the UK and warns that consistency is required across Britain to improve quality of care.

In some parts of the UK children referred to autism specialists wait anything from three months to over a year for assessment and diagnosis. A recent petition by Anna Kennedy OBE, highlighted areas in which improvements needed to be made.

Autism research has shown that early intervention therapy and early diagnosis has enormous benefits in terms of communication and socialisation skills for younger children, aiding the transition for their educational needs.

In an interview with the Guardian , Professor of child adolescent psychiatry in the University of Manchester Jonathan Green comments that the standards are currently poor, which result to children not developing to their potential, and having long term detrimental effects on parents and guardians.

He said  that key areas of improvement were needed. Prof Green has been one of the leading strategists in implementing a new set of guidelines followed by Nice.

With one in 100 people in the UK now getting an autism diagnosis, standards for diagnosis and treatment should be standardised.

Professor Gillian Lang from Nice said:

“People with autism can find everyday life challenging and confusing, and often have symptoms or aspects of other conditions that go undiagnosed. This quality standard outlines how to deliver the very best care and support for adults and children with the condition.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of The National Autistic Society told Autism Daily Newscast

“With the right support at the right time, people with autism can live rewarding and fulfilling lives which is why we campaigned hard to secure this Quality Standard.

“The first step to getting the right support is having timely access to diagnosis so speeding up the process will have a significant impact on the lives of thousands of people with autism in England, many of whom have waited or are waiting, to obtain this critical milestone.

“The Standard recognises that people with autism can also have mental or physical health issues. Professionals need to understand that all of a person’s issues need to be looked at when providing support and so services should rightly be judged on their ability to do just that.

“This Standard will also allow for services to be measured on how they respond and treat challenging behaviour and makes it clear that people with autism should not be prescribed medication to address the core features of the condition.

“People with autism have campaigned long and hard for their needs to be addressed when professionals are designing support and services: measuring progress against this Standard will help to ensure that this happens.”

Source : Autism Daily Newscast , 22nd Jan 2014

Are some Delhi buses being driven by colour blind drivers? DELHI

Information commissioner's letter suggests drivers submit fake medical certificates during recruitment.

A file photo of former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit inaugurating a fleet of new DTC buses.
A file photo of former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit inaugurating a fleet of new DTC buses.

Lives of thousands of bus commuters in the capital may be at risk if it is found to be true that the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) has been hiring medically unfit people as bus drivers, and in some cases even those who are colour blind.

In an open letter to Delhi chief mnister Arvind Kejriwal and ‘conerned officers’, information commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu, writing in a personal capacity, has highlighted that the Corporation has hired hundreds of drivers based on fake medical certificates. He expressed that the matter be dealt with urgently considering lives are at stake.

DTC has nearly 15,000 drvers for its 5,216 buses in Delhi. Of these drivers, about 7,000 are hired on contract while the rest are employees.  

“It is alleged that at least six hundred (drivers) have colour blindness... If this is even party true, the right to life of commuters in Delhi city will be under serious and constant threat until it is ensured that every driver is fit enough to drive the buses,” Acharyulu wrote in the letter, dated 21 January 2014.

Acharyulu’s letter comes in the wake of the January 15 hearing over an appeal by a certain Dhan Singh, who had sought information from DTC under the Right to Information Act in June 2012. Suspecting a fake medical certificate scandal in DTC, Singh had sought information regarding the recruitment of drivers, including action taken on those drivers who have been appointed on the basis of fake medical certificates.

“The RTI application, in fact, was about a single driver, which led to investigation, thanks to vigilant DTC, leading to revelation that hundreds of such drivers were allegedly appointed without “fitness”. The matter of concern is that the RTI application dates back to 18.6.2012, which is passing through different layers of bureaucracy and yet to reach finality,” reads Acharyulu’s letter.  

DTC’s bureaucratic delays are highlighted by the fact that its own vigilance officer had submitted that one particular driver found inelgible to be appointed had been working and dodging an enquiry. Likewise, the vigilance officer pointed out that complaints needed to be probed against 300-400 drivers for allegedly submitting fake medical certificates. Despite the vigilance officer having submitted a report to the Depot Manager, no action has been taken.

“I feel there is a serious urgency to look into the issue... I hope the CM of Delhi, concerned minister and other authorities of DTC or any other personality in governments of Delhi and Union of India, besides public spirited people would view this open letter and act appropriately,” Acharyulu wrote.

Source : DNA , 22nd Jan 2014

Software app 'Avaz' helps children with special needs express themselves

 Eleven-year-old special-needs children Yashank, Vijay and Sambhav, who study at Umang School in Jaipur, are able to understand the world but unable to communicate with it effectively. They have cerebral palsy, a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination.

                                  (In pic: A child using Avaz…)


In the past, it would take a lot of time for teachers at Umang to understand even simple messages such as "I want an apple" or "I am hungry" from these children. But thanks to a picture-based software application, Avaz, that is changing. Avaz, developed by Chennai-based Invention Labs, allows the children to communicate by pointing out the pictures on a tablet using the software.

 It also gives voice output, helping them to learn better—a marked improvement from the paperbased picture communication book they used earlier. This innovation has enabled the firm to bag customers, such as Los Angeles Unified School District—the second-largest public school system in the United States—and Autism-Denmark, an association to advance the rights of persons with autism.

The company's founder, 32-year-old Ajit Narayanan worked at a US-based hardware and software firm American Megatrends Inc before returning to set up Invention Labs in 2007. Narayanan, an alumnus of IIT-Madras, initially launched the product in 2009 as a Rs 30,000 communication device that helped people with speech disorders. Now Invention Labs no longer markets the device.

Instead it now makes software that can be bought for Rs 5,000 and runs across mobile platforms. "The basic idea of the Avaz is to convert muscle movements into speech through features like pictures. For example, a user can put together different words like 'I like' and then select a picture of an apple. The sentence is constructed pictorially," said Narayanan.

The firm, which was incubated at IIT Madras, reached an inflection point in 2012 after deciding to turn its expertise to software. Besides India, Invention Labs now sells the software app for around Rs 5,000 in developed markets such as Europe, United States and Australia. In fact, the Danish and Italian version of Avaz is the only app available there to help the autistic, claimed Narayanan. It has improved the lives of both parents and children.

"After few attempts of trying to convey something, my daughter would get angry, if we were not able to understand her," said Radha Mani, mother of 18-year-old Dharunika who has cerebral palsy. "Her vocabulary has also improved, other solutions had limited vocabulary."

Invention Labs has received government grants and loans of about Rs 40 lakh from Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and a bank. Narayanan, who has been granted 28 patents by the US authorities, is now scouting for venture capital funding or a strategic investor. "Apart from patents, we will evaluate the company on the team, market size, differentiated technology or intellectual property," said Sandeep Singhal, managing director of Nexus Venture Partners, which manages around $600 million.

US-based Artiman Ventures, which manages a $750-million fund and makes investments in companies with large opportunities and no identifiable competitors, also sees what Invention Labs is doing as a big opportunity. "It is good to have a broad-based technology so that more people can benefit from it," said Ramesh Radhakrishnan, a partner at Artiman Ventures.

Invention Labs is also working on other technologies which will enable personalised therapy based on data analysis. It expects to achieve revenue of Rs 12 crore in 2015 from Avaz-related products. "The key to scale is to build a strong differentiation around intellectual property and not just around price," said Nexus' Singhal.

Source : The Economic Times , 24th Jan 2014