When tech conquers disabilities

January 17, 2009

Ruchi Hajela, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, October 31, 2008
Unlike millions of teenagers, 17-year-old Arpit Khansili, could not use the Internet earlier because he suffers from a motor disability that makes it difficult for him to use the mouse or the keyboard attached to his personal computer.

However, he is surfing away, thanks to a software program that identifies inputs from any device such as a joystick, wheel or a gaming console. What’s more, it is a free software and based on an Open Source platform – which makes it easily modifiable.

The user needs to be logged into the Internet, and what the special software does is to replace the keyboard or mouse with an attached device, and links it through a browser interface that offers clickable words and icons that can be manipulated.

The program, named Arpit’s Wheel, has been conceptualised by IIT alumnus Arun Mehta, who has won the Manthan Award this year for his work. “Our software is based on Rubyonrails, a language based on Open Source, and can be accessed on any Web browser,” said Mehta, who is also the managing director at Delhi-based computer training organisation Indata Com Private Limited.

Currently, the software offers about 12 modules that help a user write or edit pictures. The software is available for a free download at www.skid.org.in.

The Website says such technology is just what the doctor ordered for children who cannot speak properly, including many with cerebral palsy and autism.

On the Skid home page, icons like a smiley for “yes” and a frown for “no” – besides Up and Down icons, show the way for the surfer with disabilities that hamper the conventional use of the mouse or keyboard.

“Arpit could not even use the Internet earlier but with the software, he can now play games,” Arpit’s elder brother Rohit told HT.


Arpit wins the Ed Roberts Award India

December 15, 2008

The enthusiasm of Arpit to communicate via a computer wins him the 1st d Roberts Award, India. The Award recognizes an extra-ordinarily talented child with communication disability and encourages him/her by providing a communication support system.

For Arpit the Award constituted Certificate of Appreciation, a small 7″ display light-weight computer with the skid software and Festival text to speech pre-installed and a wheel as in his famous video.

Certificate of Appreciation

Morning is when one realizes

October 3, 2008

Deepak was groaning in pain when he opened his eyes. He looked around and found Sohan sitting near him. “Oh, what is this? Where is he? And his hand is bandaged?”

On seeing Deepak opening his eyes, Sohan asked him how he is feeling.

The whole incident of the previous night flowed in front of is eyes. He remembered last night when in the Dhaba he was carrying the vessel of boiling water for washing the utensils, he slipped and all the boiling water was over him. He cried out in pain. After that he does not remember what happened to him. When he came back into consciousness he found himself in a Hospital bed. Sohan told him that the Dhaba owner has given his monthly salary towards the cost of his treatment and asked him not to come for work again. On hearing this, Deepak’s eyes got filled with tears.

Sohan and Deepak stayed in a small rented room near the Dhaba. Sohan and Deepak came back to their room. Sohan has been staying here since a long time, Deepak came here a few months back only. Here both of them became friends. Deepak belonged to a well-to-do family. Both were working together in the dhaba.

Both of them were child laboureres. But their stories were different. While Sohan was a victim of circumstances, Deepak landed here because of his bad habits. Sohan’s father died and none of the relatives was ready to provide him shelter. He wanted to study, but he had no means to continue his education. For his survival, he started working in the dhaba. At the same time, Deepak was the only son of a wealthy family. His parents wanted him to study and become a good man. But, Deepak was not interested in studies. He would always escape the school to go to his friends and loiter around with his friends. He started drinking. Somehow he managed to pass in class 9th, but failed in class 10th examinations. He was horrified of his parents reaction, so he left home and fled.

After that he was on roads for many days. When he was very hungry he went to a dhaba. But, he had no money in the pocket. What would he do?

Here he met Sohan. Sohan looked at his condition and discussed with the dhaba owner, to give some work to Deepak. Now he had to work hard in the dhaba in day time and bear all scolding and beatings of the dhaba owner. On the smallest mistake also, he got beaten-up badly. He now was regretting his mistake. Every now and then, he would remember his parents love and affection. He realized the importance of studies. But, what could he do now? How could he go back and face his parents? He himself selected this life for himself. He realized his mistakes and his condition and cried.

Sohan saw him crying and console him. Sohan’s support encouraged Deepak to share his story with him. Sohan told Deepak- “It is never too late my friend, whenever you wake-up is the morning for you. Here you are thinking about your parents and crying, think how they must be feeling? You have realized your mistake. Now go back with a clear heart and ask for forgiveness. No parent can remain upset from their children for a long time. They will be very happy. Go back and start studying again and fulfill their dreams.”

Deepak asked Sohan to come with him. Initially Sohan was not ready to go with Deepak, but when Deepak insisted he went with him.

Deepak embraced his parents and wept. His tears were telling his realizing his mistakes. After that he introduced Sohan to his parents. He also told them that Sohan has showed him the right path.

Deepak’s parents conveyed their thanks to Sohan and requested him to stay with them. Sohan as if got his dream come true. He stayed back with Deepak. He also have a family now. Deepak and Sohan started studying again.

Written by Arpit
Translated from Hindi by Manasi Dash

Arpit’s summer media workshop experiences

September 15, 2008

My point of view

Birds are flying in the sky, fishes are swimming in the water and I am standing, watching them. I am Arpit Khansili, a special child studying at the AADI school.

The summer holidays brings number of opportunities to children to learn something new. I also wanted to learn new things but, as I am a “disable person”, I had a lot of doubts. The biggest was of transportation, the other was of the environment not being “disable-friendly”. At last my teacher Shahana didi told me about the Print Media Workshop being run by the Gandhi Smriti.

I was very happy about attending the workshop. At the same time I was skeptical, would I be able to make good rapport with the other children coming there. Will they understand my point of view? With these questions in mind I attended the workshop and I got the answers.

I did not face any kind of problem during the workshop. The volunteers were ready to assist anytime. We were informed about the world of media.

We were taught about the various intricacies of writing news, the process of news printing, people involved in this. Details of reporting was given by Mr. Siddhartha and Miss Pooja. We realized the importance and power of pen. All information was delivered in such a easy to understand manner that we got attracted towards Journalism.

The workshop also contributed towards improving communication skills of children and raising interest in newspaper reading.

All participants of this workshop would like to be a part of this workshop every year.

Arpit Khansili

Indian Express Article, name for software?

May 4, 2008


since I fear that this link will cease to work at any time, I am copying the article below. Suggestions for what I should call the software are welcome, I will describe it nicely in my next post.



A Special Software

Font Size –

Dipanita Nath

Posted online: Sunday , May 04, 2008 at 11:47:08
Updated: Sunday , May 04, 2008 at 11:47:08

Arun Mehta, a professor who makes computers accessible to special children, has also designed software for Stephen Hawking “Express yourself,” goes the tagline of a mobile network commercial. To this, Arun Mehta, 55, a grey-bearded professor of computer engineering, adds a footnote: especially if you are disabled.

“Nobody needs to talk more than children suffering from a disability that prevents them from expressing themselves,” he says. For the past few years, Mehta, who teaches at JMIT Radaur in Haryana, has spent his spare time designing software to help people with special abilities use the computer as a communication tool.

His current project is there in his drawing room—a laptop linked to a blue plastic wheel and foot pedals that gamers would be familiar with. Turn the wheel, press the pedals or twist the gear and even a user with little motor control can navigate icons on the computer. A combination of software would enable him to type simple messages. The system is indigenous but effective and, the most important bit, it costs peanuts. “I used open source software and it is available on the net for anyone to download and use,” he says.

The system, to which Mehta hasn’t yet given a name, is currently being used at a centre for special children in Hauz Khas. The gaming touch helps make the entire exercise something of an entertainment for the students. One 17-year-old boy with a severe motor disability pushes the joystick to play a simple game of making Santa move on the screen. Soon, he begins to use the wheel and foot pedals to type words. Mehta is currently upgrading the system to enable the boy to surf and chat and thus break the communication barrier.

“My aim is to get children who are so severely disabled that they cannot type on the keyboard to use the computer. It is also important that the machine looks attractive for the child?” says Mehta.

Mehta has the conviction of a true geek that the solution to this problem lies in computers. “What would Stephen Hawking be without his computerised voice?” he asks.

Hawking’s name crops up often as Mehta articulates the need to bring special children into the mainstream. “After graduating from IIT in the 1970s, I joined a multinational. I would never have entered the area of disability if Hawking hadn’t visited India in 2001,” he says. The world’s best-known theroretical physicist and author of A Brief History of Time has suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis since his twenties and is now almost completely paralysed. “Hawkings told my friend and IIT batchmate Vickram Crishna that the software code that he uses to communicate is lost and the hardware isn’t manufactured any more. If the machine that is today Hawking’s only means of communication breaks down, it would be nothing short of a disaster. Crishna contacted me and we promised to develop a back-up software, all the time wondering why he did not turn to American companies,” recalls Mehta. He soon found out why—few computer experts were dealing with devices for the specially abled. “This whole area of disability and computers was almost empty,” he says. The software for Hawkings, which took four years to write, is available for free on the Net.

“But the right people to be designing software for the specially-abled are the specially-abled themselves. I now volunteer my services to centers, which teach information technology to specially-abled people. It is a great joy when a visually-impaired girl or boy or a youngster with any kind of disability creates a new software,” he says with quiet satisfaction.

After four decades working with machines, this engineer has finally found his calling with special people.

April 17, 2008

the wheel akin to a joystick

At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7eMoA3cr8E I have posted a video showing how quickly Arpit learnt how to use the wheel to play games and even to type. In future posts, we will therefore try to include Arpit’s views as well.

In the months ahead, we will explore different hardware and software options that help children with cerebral palsy, autism,  and other conditions that may make it hard for them to use the computer in a traditional manner. Quite likely, such software should work for most kids. Arpit, we hope, will continue to be an enthusiastic beta tester.

If necessary, we will develop special software – what you see in the video is a client-server application developed using Ruby on Rails for the back end, and Firewatir and joystick.rb for the front end.

All suggestions, offers of help and referrals most welcome 🙂