By Features Editor Meghna Pant

Basic literacy can be too trivial a matter to you and me but for many people, especially for the visually impaired, it is still a dream. Despite India being home to the world’s largest visually impaired population at 15 million, Braille literacy is an unattainable goal. There is an urgent need to educate and empower, to reach out, and to generate awareness regarding the value of the embossed word, the beauty of the language, and the magic of the Braille script. It was great to see one woman, Upasana Makati, bring the world to those who’ve not been given the gift to see it.

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Makati is the founder and publisher of White Print, which is India’s first lifestyle magazine in Braille. It is also our country’s first initiative to engage and promote Braille literacy. It is a 64-pager that publishes entertainment, politics, sports, lifestyle, science and short stories. The magazine is printed at the National Association of the Blind, priced at Rs 30 and circulated across India.

Makati says she was inspired when she didn’t find any Braille reading material in 2012. “One day I was counting the number of magazines that were available for me to read. Obviously, I immediately listed almost 50 names, but when I thought about the same aspect for the visually impaired, I was unable to name even one. This somehow made me uncomfortable and I began researching about magazines for the community.  Three months into my research, I decided to quit my job and commit myself to the venture,” she said.

She wanted to give visually challenged people something to read in their free time. Unlike sighted people who have so much to read in the form of books, newspapers, ads, Internet and electronic media, reading material in Braille is very scarce giving the blind very little reading opportunity.

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This is in part because education in Braille is mostly in Hindi or other regional languages. Most blind people study in vernacular medium schools in their state language due to which they find reading and speaking in English a challenge.

Upasana Makati is behind White Print
Upasana Makati is behind White Print

White Print was started in May 2013 as an effort to debunk this. It provides the blind education and information. It motivates them and improves their quality of life. It lets the visually impaired have a companion to curl up with in bed, to be stimulated, to be entertained and gripped by words, and to be taken on a journey with words like we have been. I can’t imagine my childhood without Malgudi Days or The Famous Five. Why should the blind be denied the magic of words and stories?

It also helped open up a new avenue for the world of advertising, which has traditionally been all about graphics and images and bright colours. Coca Cola, for instance, devised a musical ad for the magazine by developing music chips installed in each magazine that worked just like a musical card. The Tata Group and Raymond started text-based ads for this

Despite many struggles, like convincing companies to advertise with them, a smallish subscription base, difficulty reaching small towns and villages, distribution issues that force the magazine to be send through post, not even courier, Makati hopes that the magazine reaches more and more houses, institutes, schools and libraries in the near future.

When asked her inspiration to keep the magazine afloat, Makati said, “Our biggest success is when we get subscribers from the smallest of villages in India. There are numerous people who send us messages, calls and letters telling us how it’s an important part of their routine. A girl from a small village in North India read the entire edition in a day and called me asking when she could get to read the next. It is certainly the most satisfying feeling when we hear such wonderful things from our readers.”

Picture Credit: DNA