Chennai: Giving voice to the intellectually challenged, the state’s differently abled persons’ welfare department would soon begin distribution of nearly 400 high-end communication devices developed by researchers at IIT Madras for children with autism, Cerebral Palsy (CP) and Down syndrome. These augmentative and alternative communication tools allow children with speech and language disabilities to communicate using pictures and artificial speech in both Tamil and English. “The developed devices —tablets with specially designed software installed in them — would be used in early intervention centres, mobile therapy units and training centres,” an official from the differently abled persons’ welfare department told Deccan Chronicle.
Also, of the 400 devices, 50 will come with a switch access to aid those who cannot use touch screen. Apart from this, all the devices have picture and alphabet mode to make them more user-friendly, added Kalpana Rao, Principal, Day Centre, Vidya Sagar, which is a part of technical committee of the project. Approximately one in every 50 children are believed to be on the autism spectrum and nearly 35,000 individuals across the state suffer from CP, a permanent congenital condition in which a portion of the brain's frontal lobe is damaged thereby affecting coordinated movement of hand or feet.
In most cases, CP affects muscles that produce speech or vision. So, even when children are intelligent, they are denied access to traditional communication methods. To overcome this, Invention lab in IITM, came out with , a device which acts as an artificial voice for the child. AVAZ is a portable speech synthesiser, which captures movement of children with CP, translates it into text and reads it out aloud.
The device is out for sale in the open market since 2010 and in 2016, the differently abled persons 'welfare department had proposed to procure these devices for communication and education purposes, said a senior official from the Commissionerate of differently abled persons’ welfare department. “A pilot project was launched with funds from private sector (through corporate social responsibility activities) earlier this year and impressed over its success the state finance, the ministry has recently gave its nod for the project and sanctioned nearly Rs 100.09 lakhs towards this”. The Commissionerate plans to procure 400 more AVAZ devices thereby taking the overall count to 600.