Chandni Rajendran – Making Education More Convenient For The Visually Impaired With Tactopus

Chandni Rajendran
Significant leaps are being seen in the space of inclusive and assistive technology enabling people with disabilities to get more opportunities that they deserve to have a chance at success in this competitive world. The youth of today are seen tuning into the frequency of “What can I do that this world needs?” rather than “What it is that I do best!” professionally, and this is such a much-needed wave we need. Riding this very wave, is this young lady – Chandni Rajendran, who has created an inclusive tool in the education space to support the visually impaired. What started as an academic project is now a blooming social enterprise called Tactopus.

Architect By Chance

Chandni Rajendran studied architecture at NIT Trichy, then worked for three years designing retail stores for brands like Fastrack and Tanishq. She then did went on to do her masters in Interaction Design at IDC, IIT Bombay.
She says- “After high school, the plan was to do my engineering in Electronics. But I chose to pursue architecture almost on a whim. I was just fascinated by how interesting and offbeat architecture and design seemed. I definitely enjoyed the course because it gave me exposure to many things I wouldn’t have had in an engineering program, like rural studies, vernacular architecture, urban planning and climate responsive design. It really was an opening into a wide spectrum of career options.”
Chandni shares that her seniors and batchmates have gone on to become landscape architects, furniture designers, interior designers, urban planners, development policy advocates, etc. But she couldn’t make up her mind regarding what it is that she wanted to do, which is why she went ahead with the safety net option she had, which was a job at Titan through campus placements.

“It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but it went on for three years. Titan was an unexpectedly interesting learning experience for me. It’s a huge corporate entity and there was so much to learn about how organisations work and large scale operational challenges are met. Luckily for me, Titan also had a culture of being fluid about teams and responsibilities. I eventually gravitated away from architecture and space design. With my free time, I would work on graphic design and illustration first, and later digital product design. It led me to want to study interaction design at IDC, one of the best places in the world to pursue this subject. This time, it was a lot more deliberate, and an informed decision.”

Chandni Rajendran 's Tactopus

Fine Tuning The People-Machine Chemistry

According to Chandni, at IDC, the course centres around Human Computer Interaction or HCI. Essentially it’s about teaching computers to work more effectively for people. Technology in its initial forms can be quite far removed from how human beings behave, because the first priority at the engineering stage is to solve challenging problems and get things to work. In order to ensure more people to be able to use this technology, we need to design the interface between people and machines such that it doesn’t take someone years of training to use it.
She says- “People should also be able to use it in an error-free, effortless manner, without the process being too much of a mental or physical strain. This takes a deep understanding of human behaviour, cognitive abilities and limitations, emotional responses, etc. I felt a lot more excited and driven to design for these challenges, and the design community at IDC is very inspiring!”

Tactopus by Chandni Rajendran

The Inception Of Tactopus

“I had worked with XRCVC over last summer, creating tactile graphics and exploring production techniques. When I got back to IIT for my second year of MDes, I wanted to see how I could digitise the labels on tactile graphics so that children can read them independently. Existing solutions were either ineffective or unaffordable for the kind of experience I wanted to design. After exploring many technologies and methods, it appeared that image processing and computer vision could be used effectively. I had reservations about the efficiency, but with the team that joined me later, we’ve been able to develop and refine it to work well.”

A few months after the project was completed at an academic level, Chandni received a grant from NIDHI Prayas through SINE, IIT Bombay, to prototype the product and test it. They are currently in the third version of the prototype.
When asked about the big plans Tactopus has, Chandni shares- “The vision of this venture is to make the visual parts of textbooks accessible to blind children, and this is important because students with visual impairment shouldn’t find themselves unable to pursue certain disciplines such as science or math because the right resources are unavailable.”
She continues- “We have just begun working on this and so far it has been as exhilarating as it has been tough. Every time a small challenge is overcome, or we come up with a novel way to solve a problem, it’s creatively, intellectually and emotionally rewarding. The tougher part is working through the lows and it helps to reiterate the vision and keep in mind that what we’re doing is important work!”
Tactopus by Chandni Rajendran

Expectations From Tactopus

Tactopus is a device equipped with a custom camera. It can be kept on the table in front of a book of tactile graphics. When a child explores the tactile material with their fingers, the device (through computer vision /image processing) is congnizant of the child’s finger location, and provides audio labels, explanations and even sound effects according to their fingers’ movement.

So for example, a child can learn the map of India by running their fingers over the tactile state map and they will hear different states’ names being spoken out loud.

“We are also creating board games and activities using this technology that we have developed. There are spelling and counting games for very young children, and also more complex games involving deduction skills comparable to minesweeper. (Just a comparison to indicate the level of complexity!) Our product development and content development are parallel processes, and we’re seeking further funds to support us in this endeavour”, says Chandni.

Chandni Rajendran

Having had such an inspiring journey at such a young age, Chandni Rajendran attributes her success to being always ready and willing to learn new things. She confides that this attitude has helped her a lot, and is super grateful for a supportive and encouraging family that made all of this possible. The ingredient she suggests for anyone who is seeking the recipe of a fulfilling career is a continuous upward learning curve. “Of course it’s hard work, but learning must not stop at school or college if one wants to have an exciting career.” (KYS) interviewed Chandni Rajendran as part of the India Inclusion Summit(IIS). IIS is a platform that brings awareness and drives the inclusion of specially-abled people in corporate organisations, schools, policymaking and NGOs. KYS is the official blogging partner for IIS, and backs the event wholeheartedly. Let’s build a more Inclusive India! 

Liked reading this? Then you might also like to read Johan Dhinakaran – The Physiotherapist Whose Passion Is Empowering Persons With Spinal Cord Injuries

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KnowYourStar is an NGO working in education sector leveraging technology, storytelling and volunteerism. Our Passion-to-Profession interactive tool helps students unlock their true potential and leads them to explore viable future options through stories of role models & education roadmaps. To support rural/underprivileged students, KnowYourStar proudly runs Mentor India. We have published our own curriculum in a book called – Mitra Pustak.