Helping hand for S.B.P.A.

By Deidre Tautua-Fanene ,

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PRESIDENT OF THE SAMOA BLIND PERSONS ASSOCIATION: Mataafa Faatino Utumapu, Senior Lecturer, Dr. Utkal Mehta, Assistant Director of U.S.P. Alafua Campus, Le Mamea Sia Matalavea and U.S.P. Engineering Masters student, Nikhil Singh from U.S.P. Suva Campus.

PRESIDENT OF THE SAMOA BLIND PERSONS ASSOCIATION: Mataafa Faatino Utumapu, Senior Lecturer, Dr. Utkal Mehta, Assistant Director of U.S.P. Alafua Campus, Le Mamea Sia Matalavea and U.S.P. Engineering Masters student, Nikhil Singh from U.S.P. Suva Campus.

The Samoa Blind Persons Association (S.B.P.A.) received two Braille Eye Slates from the University of the South Pacific’s Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment yesterday. 

Held at the Nuanua o le Alofa office in Apia, the donation was presented by Senior Lecturer, Dr. Utkal Mehta and U.S.P. Suva Campus Engineering Masters student, Nikhil Singh.

The Braille Eye Slate is tactile systems used by people who are blind or visually impaired to tell them the letters they have pressed.

The devices were invented by Mr. Singh and Vinaal Prakash, third year students at the School of Engineering and Physics. They were guided by Senior Lecturer, Dr. Utkal Mehta.

The students developed the devices with the aim of having a device touted for low cost solutions to teach braille language to visually impaired students.

During the handover ceremony, Dr. Mehta said the eye slate is a simple, but very effective device which can be used by young children. 

“It will allow them to learn braille from a young age, enabling them to start their education on the right footing,” he said.

“Existing braille machines can be very difficult for young children to use, and usually children become disinterested and can even give up on learning if it’s too challenging.”

 “U.S.P. has already donated eye slates to other Pacific nations such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu as well as local organisations in Fiji.”

He said their aim is to enable people with visual impairments to learn braille as soon as possible.

“This will help them to read and write,” he said.

“We are happy that today (yesterday), we are able to gift these devices to the S.B.P.A. in the hope that the younger generation will benefit.”  

He explained the device is a light weight hand held with 29 buttons.

“Each button has a single braille letter superimposed on the surface,” he said.

“By pressing a button, an internal speaker sounds out the letter which is audible to the user. 

“There is also a setting which will allow the user to hear numerals instead.”

Mr. Singh said one of the issues he and his colleague discovered was the lack of technology access for braille learners in the Pacific region. 

“So we at the School of Engineering and Physics came up with the solution, making sure it was a simple, portable, durable and cost-effective device to teach braille to our visually impaired children,” he said.

“My vision as an inventor was to make the device in a totally Pacific way and there is more scope in our vision for similar innovations.” 

“The engineering team at U.S.P. hopes that we will impact the lives of our people with visual impairments and develop more technologies to elevate the standard of living of our people and community as a whole.”

President of S.B.P.A, Mataafa Faatino Utumapu, acknowledge the kind donation.

“This is a simple indication of how S.B.P.A. is one of the leading agencies for inclusive education,” she said. “I hope this device will provide our young generation with good opportunities to develop and learn at an equal level to students without disabilities.”

“The future of students without disabilities is no different than of those who are blind and have visual impairments, as long as the opportunities are there.” 

“I trust that these devices are a significant addition to our tool box at S.B.P.A, as we teach our youngsters. We are working to ensure that no child, who is blind or has visual impairments, is left behind.”

This braille eye slate is the result of a research conducted in mid-2016, to gauge the level of braille illiteracy in children in the Pacific Island countries and also after it gained recognition in its top ranking in the I.E.E.E. Young Engineers Humanitarian Challenge in the world.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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