Introduction: It was the week of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) where the voices of the non verbal children in Vidya Sagar are heard. December 5th was the first day of the said celebrations where in United Way of Chennai commemorated with the event in donating six devices (AVAZ) to the kids to help them communicate themselves to the world around.

Illuminating the event: The day began with the lighting of the lamp by Mr. M.A.Alagappan – Chairman of UWC, Mr. Lakshmi Naryanan –Founder member of UWC, Ajith – Director, Invention Labs, Mr. Rajul Padmanabhan – Director of Vidhya Sagar and Master. Rakesh, a child who is otherwise challenged belonging to the school of Vidya Sagar.

Welcome Address: Ms. Kalpana Rao – Principal Vidya Sagar welcomed the gathering and says communication is the birth right of individuals and speech dependence is the greatest hurdle for social inclusion. The school was glad of the enormous help they receive from IIT, Chetna Foundation and Invention Labs and that they are put into a reality.

Key Note Address: Ms. Rajul Padmanabhan – Director of Vidya Sagar started with an excellent quote on communication “If you want to know what it is like to be unable to speak, there is way, Go to a party and don’t talk. Play mute. Use your hands if you wish. Here is what you will find: People talking behind, bedside, around, over, under and through, and even for you. But never with you. You are ignored until finally you feel like a piece of furniture” – Rich Creech and says that AAC makes the person feel what it is like to be non verbal. She continues with her enormous experience that India still needs to re think of rehabilitation of these kids who are non verbal to be able to communicate to the world of what they are and what they need. Yet recognize that it is their right. Vidya Sagar has the privilege to work with many such communicative devices, which might help the children with disabilities to a large extent to advocate their communication abilities and needs, improve literacy and advocate their overall quality of life.

She continues to mention of the case studies that the school shares with the IIT’s and other techies to be able to develop communication devices. This gave birth to Mr. Ajith who was a student of IIT and who spent nearly six years in trying to invent – AVAZ. Ajith was appreciated for his continuous commitment as a social entrepreneur but with nonprofit making attitude. There are now several queries nationally and internationally on AVAZ. Ms. Rajul also says that funding is in other words support and is definitely needed for the cause, especially in the absence of government support. In fact the government should be able to support these kids with the communication devices free of cost as a mandate. She thanks UWC to have taken a large initiative to support a research study that helps in the awareness of the concept for helping the non verbal with communication and such devices, training, advocacy etc. which helps in the enhancement of the overall quality of life of the children with disabilities.

The man behind the invention: Mr. Ajith Naryanan – Founder and Managing Director of Invention Labs, insists on the power of Technology that could change one’s life. He gave a simple example of people wearing spectacles that has problems associated with vision, but is being corrected but not stigmatized. Therefore his vision is that people with problems associated with communication and are non verbal shouldn’t be finding it as a setback but cope with devices such as AVAZ which can help and assist them to otherwise develop themselves.

Strength of UWC: Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan – Founder Member UWC, felt happy for the day and says he is very interested in the research study and its findings, that Vidya Sagar and UWC would be initiating to identify the needs of the AAC, the kinds of training that will set in, modes of awareness to the parents and other supporters etc. He is much looking forward to a break through to ensure that these kids with autism, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disability, aphasia and hearing impairment will benefit more to improve their overall quality of life.

UWC as a pivot by the Chief Guest for the day: Mr. M.A.Alagappan, Chairman of UWC took great pride on behalf of his board to choose to help and assist the physically disabled who are otherwise challenging. He said that United Way of Chennai is part of a worldwide organization and that they have counterparts in metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hubli. Generally all United Ways revolve around three areas of work such as education, health and Income He continued to say that the initiatives that have been so far attempted by UWC include, identifying the strengths of the physically challenged persons, training them and placing them in corporate sectors. He authenticated the success in training 60 such persons and placing them for salaries anywhere between 10,000/- to 15,000/-per month. Using the above as a he vouches that UWC would now attempt to identify, train and place 200 such candidates within the corporate sectors in to different fields such as retail, BPO’s and in service sectors.

Chairman Mr. M.A.Alagappan takes immense pride and concern in associating with Vidya Sagar who has been helping children with disabilities. He further takes the opportunity to congratulate Mr.Ajith Narayanan of the Invention Labs to have invented a communicative device to help out the children who are otherwise unable to communicate. He is sure with the right use of these communication devices, the children will be able to enhance their overall quality of life in terms of education and career development. He states and he understands that UWC will also be helping out Vidhya Sagar to study the needs of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) with its devices, which may be piloted to understand more of how awareness and training could help the kids in the usage of such devices. He visualized the results of this study that would go a long way to scale up UWC’s interest on supporting the cause. On behalf of him and his board he thanks Vidhya Sagar and AVAZ for their immense involvement and promise to render all the support to the kids who are otherwise challenged.

Giving away of the devices: Mr. M.A.Alagappan, Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan and Mr.Vijaykumar representing Cognizant took immense pride in inaugurating the AVAZ devices and handed out six pieces to the Center. Each of them would cost around 40,000 Indian Rupees. All of them were convinced of the change that AVAZ is going to bring about in the lives of these otherwise challenging children.

Thanks giving: Finally the touch was felt when one of the kids as a beneficiary used AVAZ to thank UWC and the others involved for their concern and social responsibility. In addition, UWC thanks Mr. D.Chandrasekhar, Treasurer for having taken out time to attend the launch. However this initiative would not have been possible without the extensive support by the Grants Committee of UWC and Mr. Raghuraman in particular, for his visit and careful thoughts over the project needs and solutions. UWC takes pride in thanking the presence of Mr. Vijayakumar and Mr. Madhavan Satogopan of Cognizant for their generosity of resources to the cause.

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