“Close your eyes,” says Paul D’Souza, handing me a small card-sized strip of plastic with step-like incisions at one end, a notch on the side and raised dots across it (it says Tiffy’s Template and offers instructions in Braille). The Bengaluru-based inventor hands me a currency note (my eyes are still closed) and asks me to wrap it around the strip. The note covers the notch and reaches the top of the second step of the device, “That is a 100 rupee note,” he confirms.
Pulling out a sheaf of notes, he points out the size differences between them, “The Rs.10 and 20 is the same breadth but different lengths; Rs.20 is the same length as Rs.50 but the width is different while Rs.100, 500 and 1000 have the same width but different lengths.”
To the sighted, it probably doesn’t matter but for the visually challenged, who have to depend on touch and feel to navigate the world, these details do. “They end up getting cheated all the time,” says D’Souza with a pained expression, “For instance, when they try to get change, a shopkeeper may tell them that they are getting two twenty rupee notes and actually give them a ten,” he says.
Although Indian currency notes do have tactile identifiers marking them—shapes such as squares, circles, rectangles and triangles—these soon fade with time, making it almost impossible for the visually-challenged to make sense of it. Also, “The skin on the tip of their fingers is rougher since they use it a lot more than we do,” explains D’Souza—this makes it even harder to feel a barely-defined shape on a rumpled currency note.
His low-cost Braille machine, which translates information on a computer screen to Braille, not just won D’Souza the National Geographic Shaping the Future award in 2010; it also got him noticed by Sabriya Tenberken, the founder of Braille Without Borders, an international organization for the visually challenged. “Someone from the organization called one day and said that Sabriya (Tenberken) wanted to meet me. So I went down to Trivandrum—where she runs an educational and training institute called kanthari—to meet her,” he says.
At kanthari, he met 27-year-old Tiffany Brar, who was working there (now with the Jyothirgamaya Foundation). Sightless since childhood, Brar currently helps other visually-challenged people become self-sufficient, “She became a very good friend,” says D’Souza, “She helped me understand life from a visually-challenged person’s perspective.” It was Tiffany who asked him to design something that would help the visually-challenged figure out currency notes, says D’Souza, adding that the invention is named after her.
“The sightless really have trouble identifying notes during our day to day transactions so Paul’s (D’Souza) invention really helps us,” says Brar, in a telephonic conversation from Kerala where she lives and works. “I have given a lot of these to my friends and students.”
D’Souza started off by simply handing the device to his friends. Today, however, he hopes to reach out to as many of the 15 million visually impaired people in the country he can. And Fueladream , a recently launched crowd-funding platform is helping him do this.
According to Ranganath Thota, founder and CEO of Fueladream (Thota was formerly associated with HT Media as the business head). “Making this device will cost only Rs.2—an insignificant amount, really but it can change someone’s life,” he says. The crowdfunding campaign hopes to raise a sum of Rs.4 lakhs which will go towards making this device: Currently, they have raised Rs.3,40,7000.
Several organizations for the visually challenged have already contacted them, he says, adding that the template will be made and distributed to the visually challenged through organizations that work with them soon after the campaign ends. “I have been making it myself so far,” says D’Souza, who has refused to get a patent on this invention. “I just hope that more people get access to it and we get proper equipment to make this in mass.”