A Vision for India

Faculty Member, Students Working On Low-Cost Digital Braille Readers

India is home to approximately 20 percent of the world’s blind population, with 7.8 million legally blind people. India also has economic challenges; 37 percent of the country’s residents live below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day.

Dr. Shraddha Sangelkar, center, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is working with engineering students, front row from left, Alec Hydock and Anthony Walker, and second row from left, Marco Nunez and William Aldridge, to reduce the manufacturing costs of a braille reader to make it more accessible to those in developing countries.

Dr. Shraddha Sangelkar, center, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is working with engineering students, front row from left, Alec Hydock and Anthony Walker, and second row from left, Marco Nunez and William Aldridge, to reduce the manufacturing costs of a braille reader to make it more accessible to those in developing countries.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

While life is a struggle for many in India, it is profoundly harder for those living with a disability such as blindness. Braille books are expensive, bulky, and unavailable to most people living in developing countries. The digitization of information has led to portable, refreshable, braille displays that are now commonly available in developed countries, but they are still out of reach in poorer countries.

Dr. Shraddha Sangelkar, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is working to remedy that. Sangelkar is collaborating with Innovision, a company in India that developed the first proof-of-concept for a low-cost, digital refreshable braille reader. She is working to improve the design so that the reader can be connected to a smart phone or tablet, making it more accessible and affordable.

“Currently, the available displays on the market use piezoelectric technology, which makes the device very expensive,” Sangelkar said. “In order to reduce the cost, alternative technology is required to raise and lower the braille dots.”

Sangelkar and Innovision recently received a powerful boost to continue their work— a $297,000 grant from the U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund. Sangelkar’s portion of the grant totals nearly $100,000.

“The funds will be used for student and faculty support, material for testing, user studies for comfortability testing, and improvement of the user interface,” Sangelkar said.

Four Behrend Mechanical Engineering majors—William Aldridge, Alec Hydock, Marco Nunez, and Anthony Walker— will be assisting Sangelkar with her research work.