“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision” – Helen Keller
In India, there is a high dropout rate post 10th grade for those with visual impairment due to the dearth of Braille books and accessible content. Less than 1% of the content is available in Braille, and study material for competitive examinations is often not accessible or require audio-recording which takes 4-6 weeks for a 300-page book. This results in the lack of educational opportunities, limited career growth, reduced productivity, and poor overall well-being of people with visual impairment.
To truly understand the challenges faced by visually challenged persons, three engineers – Akshita Sachdeva, Bonny Dave, and Abhishek Baghel spent around 8 months interacting with the visually-impaired from all age groups across five cities. Many assumptions such as the challenges in independently crossing roads, travelling in trains/buses, cooking, accessing computers and smartphones as well as sole-dependence on Braille books for content-access proved to be otherwise as per their research study. As a team, they wished to create an inclusive educational experience and equal employment opportunities for individuals with visual impairment.
Driven by their motivation and equipped with their expertise in building tech products, these tech-entrepreneurs set on their social entrepreneurial journey by co-founding Trestle Labs in November 2017.
A lightweight reader and educational tool
Trestle Labs developed Kibo XS – a device which reads printed-text across 12 Indian and multiple international languages in real-time. The ~400 gms device can be connected to a phone, laptop, or desktop. The user can place any reading material on the device, and it will read it in real-time. That’s not all; the device can also translate the same text across more than 100 languages! This significantly increases access and eliminates any language barrier for users.
Furthermore, people with visually impairment can use Kibo XS to scan any document and convert it into an editable word format file. “A student with visual impairment can borrow class notes from a friend, scan the notes using Kibo XS, convert the file into an editable format, and then make their notes!” shares Akshita.
Kibo XS is accessible and affordable for NGOs, individuals, and inclusive educational spaces as it comes at 1/6th of the price tag of its nearest competitor and with 10x features.
A repository of audiobooks and reader
The team also created the Kibo App that has a repository of over 1 million accessible books which the user can download for free, put together in collaboration with various online digital libraries. Some of the books include NCERT and State Board textbooks ensuring that students with visual impairment can pursue their dreams without worrying about access to educational material. Kibo rightly stands for ‘Knowledge In a Box’ as pointed out by Akshita.
The Kibo App is also a text-to-audio reader. Akshita explains, “When the person with a visual impairment receives a handwritten or printed document, they can open the Kibo App, and with one click capture and the text will be read out to them.” Currently, the App supports 22 languages (including 12 Indian languages).
The App supports seven file-formats including PDF, .txt, .ePub, daisy, .docx, .jpg, and .mp3. Akshita and her team have worked to provide a seamless, immersive learning and reading experience for the user. It can be seen in the user-centric interface of the App – bookmarks, text highlighter, or even copy-paste command to save text to a digital notebook.
Trestle Labs’ work comes from a deep sense of compassion and community, powered by their humility. Akshita proudly attributes the innovation and success of Kibo to the team, partners, and the users themselves. They test, validate, and provide feedback that is incorporated in every iteration.
Bringing light to thousands of dreams
23,000+ people have read over 1.7 million+ documents and clocked 10 million+ minutes of engagement through the Kibo App. For the Kibo XS, the impressive feat is its presence in over 16 states, with 140+ devices sold.
Akshita and Team Trestle hold many accolades to their name. They recently won the Maharashtra Start-up Week competition held in August 2020 and are shortlisted among the 10 National Finalists to compete at the Entrepreneurship World Cup. “It feels great to not just represent India, but also represent Accessibility, Disability Inclusion and the voice of our Blind and Visual-impaired community at the global stage of EWC.” shares Akshita
Working towards a more inclusive world
“Anybody who wants to access any content, they should be able to. They should have the right to choose what they want to read and learn and not be dependent on what the world can make accessible for them, through Braille or audio. Make the world’s resources inclusive” shares Akshita Sachdeva
To that end, Trestle Labs wants to collaborate with NGOs who want to make accessible content for the visually impaired or buy the Kibo XS. They are looking for CSR support or Grants that will help subside Kibo XS – making it even more affordable for individuals or institutions who need them.
Lastly, Akshita has a unique ask to make of every organisation – hire someone with visual impairment. That’s the best way to gain perspective and understand the community and their strengths.