December 01, 2023
My project with RobinAge is very close to my heart. When I was in the second grade, RobinAge was my favourite newspaper. In fact, my older brother and I embarked on our writing journeys through RobinAge, eagerly submitting numerous poems with the hope of getting them published so that we could proudly show our creations to our friends in the school libraries.
Reminiscing those ‘good old days’, this idea popped into my head. If I were able to convert my childhood favourite newspaper into Braille for the 2,40,000 blind children in India, could I share some of my most cherished childhood memories with them? The idea of this delightful full-circle moment created an impetus for me to execute this farfetched-yet-achievable idea.
First, I reached out to the National Association for the Blind (NAB), an organisation that is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals who are visually impaired throughout the country. Since NAB is such a reputed and respected organisation, working towards getting permission from NAB to use the Braille Press (which is generally used to print textbooks) was the first step.
After getting their permission (so promptly, if I might add), we then approached RobinAge, which eagerly converted their paper to a Word document for the NAB team’s approval. Ms Kadam from NAB played a vital role in coordinating permissions and connecting me to the Braille team thereafter. The team used a software called ‘Duxbury’, which converted English words to Braille. One 20-page RobinAge newspaper was converted into a 60-page newspaper in Braille. The government mandates a cost of ₹3 per page, so ₹180 per newspaper, with an additional ₹20 for editing and other charges, totalling to ₹200 as the cost of printing each newspaper. We printed 100 copies. I raised funds via crowdfunding to bring this project to life.
Next, we identified 30 active blind schools in Maharashtra, providing three copies to each school and a few extra to the schools with more than the average 40 to 50 students per school. These copies were printed by NAB themselves and were sent via post and we are currently awaiting the children’s feedback! I can only imagine how excited they must be, just like me, rushing up to my school’s library to get the first read of the new RobinAge issue!
With the invaluable assistance and support of the RobinAge team, the NAB team, my family and friends, we’ve had the privilege of sharing these newspapers and passing on my nostalgia to over 1,500 children in Maharashtra!
BUT THIS IS WHERE IT ALL BEGAN…
The SWAPS PROJECT
The ophthalmologist’s words lingered in my mother’s ears, “2.00 in the right eye and -0.75 in the left. You must ensure she wears her spectacles throughout the day.” The monstrous word ‘spectacles’ echoed in my eight-year-old mind. The mere thought of having miniature windows strapped to my face and being the only person in my second-grade class with glasses ignited a flurry of potential nicknames in my imagination. When my mother took me to purchase my very first pair of spectacles, there was a whirlwind of thoughts, precautions and ideas in my pea-sized brain. “No, too Harry Potter!” I complained, swiftly rejecting all the round spectacles. As I tried on pair after pair, some were either too colourful for my liking or not vibrant enough (at least, according to my mother). I finally found a pair, a compromise between my mother’s wishes and mine, which I acquiesced to and ended up wearing for the next four years.
Fast forward to five years later, it is 2021 and I’m a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, now known as Thapar Entrepreneurs Academy (TEA). TEA was the first-ever space where I could transform an idea in my head into a tangible product. After delving into the stories of numerous entrepreneurs and businesses, a fascinating pattern emerged—the most successful products on the market often emerged from the creators’ personal encounters with daily problems and challenges. I made my way towards my bathroom mirror and looked intently at myself and as I pondered, I mused, “What is the one problem that I have faced that many people could also have faced?” Voila! And there it was, the answer to my question staring right back at me! My spectacles!
Society’s approach to children getting spectacles has always been negative, as a result of stereotypes portrayed in the media with connotations of being a “nerd”, historically seen as a sign of weakness or fragility and the “burden” that comes with it, especially for lower-income families such as those in rural India.
I decided that I would use my product, ‘SWAPS’, to infuse style into the world of spectacles and add an element of fun for anxious eight-year-olds, whom I related to all too well. My idea is based on the principle of ‘interchangeability for style’, inspired by interchangeable straps for handbags, giving birth to SWAPS—spectacle arms with interchangeable sleeves. The sleeves include patterns representing colour schemes, social movements, elements of fictional universes and glow-in-the-dark filaments for night parties, allowing the consumer to change their sleeve based on their mood and express themselves through their spectacles, a symbol of style, not necessity.
At the TEA investor panel where I placed second, receiving funding of ₹30,000, the investors and other experts told me that my product was a novel idea and advised me to file for a design registration. In December 2022, I received a design registration for my idea (which I initially thought would be a shot in the dark) from the Government of India. This motivated me to further build on my brainchild SWAPS. In the summer of 2023, I pitched my idea to an Indian multinational prescription eyewear retail chain and I’m currently working with them to develop finished prototypes and hopefully get them into markets soon!
My engagement with SWAPS propelled me into the field of vision impairment. While working towards destigmatising spectacles for those who could afford them, I was reminded of the thousands in India who don’t even have access to eye care and basic eyewear. Thus, I reached out to NGOs such as I-India and Hamari Pahchan where we have conducted four eye camps with over 150 children, with the aim of diagnosing children with visual impairments and then providing them with specialised glasses.
Ariana is a Bright Spark in the truest sense. If you are a Bright Spark too, click here to participate in the RobinAge Bright Sparks Awards 2023!
To know more about SWAPS, log on to www.projectswaps.com