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Innovating to make life easier for the disabled

May 06, 2009

Vikram Dubal in western India creates a wide range of products to help the physically challenged and distributes them free as part of his social commitment. He has made calendars in Braille, goggles that beep when faced with obstruction, canes that warn against electrical signals and many more.

Pune, Maharashtra: At 42 years of age, visually challenged Abhi Sable has found a new passion. He wants to study climate change and has begun on an experiment to tabulate the daily fluctuations in temperature and other atmospheric conditions on a sheet that he has devised on his own.

While he obtains information from environment publications that his nephew reads out to him, Abhi also uses texts in Braille as also a specially made calendar, which has been printed on a plastic sheet of 7x6 sq cms with dots that convey days and dates for the entire year.

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“This has been particularly helpful,” he says. The credit for this unique calendar produced especially for the visually challenged must go to Pune-based Vikram Dubal.

“It uses Braille and is based on a simple theme, leveraging the fact that the 1st, 8th, 15th and 29th of any month fall on the same day. Then the whole working is such that the visually impaired find it simple to learn,” he explains.

Once the calendar was designed in 2008, Dubal visited the students of the Pune School and Home for the Blind for testing it. “Students of Class IX were quick to pick up the logic behind the calendar while the older ones had to struggle for a while. However, they all acknowledged that it could be put to good use,” Dubal says.

More importantly, what mattered was the cost. “It is minimal. If there is a bulk production of around 50,000 to one lakh, the cost comes down to less than a rupee,” Dubal points out.

Interestingly, Dubal is not a typical sympathiser of the physically challenged. “I don’t create products for them out of any emotional need. I do it on a practical level just so that they too can get on with the routine aspect of doing certain things just as any normal person would,” he says in a matter-of-fact way.

This 37-year-old entrepreneur, who otherwise teaches Physics and Mathematics to students and also dabbles in software technology, has so far made a number of inventions for the physically challenged, including a pair of goggles that beep when faced with an obstruction. More importantly, most of these products are distributed free.

“I had always had a liking for inventing new things but the desire to create them for the physically challenged hit me about four years ago. However, while the spirit is strong the need for finances is stronger. It is difficult to make these products in huge quantities and getting a sponsor involves too many compromises,” he says, citing an instance when a potential investor willing to fund the production of Braille calendars insisted that his company’s name and logo be embossed on the sheet.

“It would have confused the sightless and therefore I decided to decline his proposal,” Dubal states.

Some of his other inventions include a cane for the visually impaired that warns them against stray electric signals, thus preventing electrocution. He has also a Braille toy in the form of a round puzzle that has stickers marked on coloured boxes, which the blind can figure out by touch.

“It is a kind of Rubix Cube,” he says. Another of such creations is a device for the hearing impaired called Spandan. “When attached to a source of a sound like a doorbell, a pressure cooker or an alarm clock, it sends out an alert that can be picked up by the hearing impaired,” Dubal demonstrates.

Then there is a communicator that works on Morse code and while the hearing-impaired can see the light, the visually-impaired can hear the beep.

Meanwhile, after distributing more than 10,000 calendars free of cost till date, Dubal has now moved into making calendars in Gujarati and Bengali, apart from English, with some other languages in the pipeline.

Dubal reveals that apart from his own investments he usually takes a small percentage as royalty from any manufacturer who takes up a particular product for mass production.

“I am not really interested in collaborating with companies to generate profits. This is just my way of doing something for those who have been physically shortchanged in life,” he says.

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