Saloni Mehta is a founder director of Tactopus Learning Solution Pvt Ltd, where she and her team create inclusive learning experiences for children with vision impairment and other learning disorders.
She is highly invested in social impact and has had a business and social entrepreneurship exposure through her earlier work.
Before devoting her work fulltime to Tactopus, Saloni has been a senior UX designer at Samsung R&D and lead business analyst at Flipkart. While studying to become an interaction designer from IDC, IIT Bombay, she has done projects in human behavioral nudging, sanitary waste disposal and contextual learning for rural education.
She is highly motivated to continue growing her skillset to become better equipped to tackle problems of social injustice.
Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently
I am an interaction designer, with a business development background and an engineering education. I am passionate about equitable access to informed decision and choice making. A major step towards this is the removal of barriers in education.
At present, I work with Chandni, on Tactopus – a company we co-founded to make visual learning accessible for children with vision impairments and blindness. We do this by making tactile diagrams i.e. diagrams that you can read by touch. We also build a companion mobile application, that makes these diagrams come alive and interact with the child using appropriate audio cues and guidance.
Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote
Tactopus is my current full-time concern. We have now built a team that works incessantly on this shared vision of barrier-free quality education for visually impaired children. We work with educators and the children themselves, to ensure fun-filled learning experiences for all.
We currently focus on early intervention. In all our interactions with blind individuals — adults as well as children, we repeatedly see that tactile perception skills need to be introduced early in the learning process. Also, we believe, the gap in access to learning has to be bridged as early as possible so that it doesn’t become a difficult task for a child to catch up later.
Having said that, we’ve also found that some of the early learning material we’ve created are equally interesting to blind adults, as they’ve not had access to tactile material growing up.
We plan to create content starting with early learning needs and scale rapidly to address primary school level learning needs as well.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
One of the challenges we face is the complexity of content development for this novel medium of interaction. Every concept requires us to strip it down to the basics, reconsider the pedagogy used for sighted people, and reinvent how it can be taught using tactile material and an interactive voice companion.
It’s professionally very rewarding to work on this challenge, and there’s seemingly no shortcut around this. We can’t adapt textbooks directly into this format, because we’re aiming for the highest quality of interactive learning. The experience needs to be engaging and intuitive enough for blind toddlers to find it interesting and learn on their own, and that’s not an easy feat.
This is perhaps the edge that our team has – the multi-disciplinary approach and our always-open-to-collaborate attitude, which makes us seek feedback and opinions from all stakeholders at every stage of the design and development.
What has been your greatest achievement personally?
I have always wanted to do socially impactful work. Being able to do so, along with creating a workplace that is professionally exciting and fulfilling has been a major achievement. At Tactopus, we do not look at our work as charity, nor are we solely dependent on volunteers and donations. We’ve been able to bring together a multidisciplinary team that makes building this multifaceted product possible. Being able to keep them enthused with challenging work in addition to the joy of impact they help create, continues to be very personally fulfilling as a founder and team leader.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
I definitely want to work on problems of waste reduction and management. If I could use that to somehow empower an otherwise marginalized community, that would be the dream.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
I have derived my inspiration from different sources throughout my journey. What currently keeps us going are the smiles on the faces of the children we work with. At many of our tests and trials, when the product isn’t even half ready, the children have asked if they could keep the games and books. It makes us remember how much of a difference our work makes to blind children, and is a huge motivation to keep at it.
What does the future hold for you?
We are working on a long pipeline of interactive books and games. Games that enable a child to independently practice basic numbers and mathematical operations are releasing soon!
We also want to work with other publishers of tactile and audiobooks, to help them stitch the audio-tactile experience together.
Since inclusion is as strong a focus for us as access, we’re doing what we can to promote these books to inclusive/integrated schools. It’s important that we erase the differences between “mainstream” and “special education” needs, and focus on higher quality and equal access for everybody. We’re planning reading events and play-days for children with or without disabilities to demonstrate how playful learning can be a strong social connector, given the right resources and open minds.
We are always open to suggestions and collaborations. If you think we should work on a particular topic, please write to us at [email protected]
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