Introducing ‘Google akka’ to special kids

 Poornima is from Shivamogga pursuing her PhD at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru studying molecular stress responses in yeasts. This article documents her first school visit and this is the first time we at Kannada Pustaka tested Google Home as a delivery channel for our podcast.

Poornima is from Shivamogga pursuing her PhD at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru studying molecular stress responses in yeasts. This article documents her first school visit and this is the first time we at Kannada Pustaka tested Google Home as a delivery channel for our podcast.

My introduction to Kannada Pustaka

Among the many things that happened to me in May 2018, one of the most beautiful events was to come across Kannada Pustaka. Little did I know that there was a volunteer-meeting of Kannada Pustaka in my own institute campus. Kishore, a volunteer, drove me to the meeting and I was curious to know what the organisation was up to. They digitize audio textbooks and distribute them to differently abled children for free, which especially becomes a boon for visually challenged. I was overwhelmed by the simplicity of the idea. It is our responsibility as a community to ensure easy access of books to every special child. I desired to be a part of the group at the very moment but was unsure of what role I could play amidst many vivid and enthusiastic volunteers!

The group has been working on improving access of the audio textbooks to every child across the state and Rakesh, the founding-volunteer, rung me up when one such idea popped up in his mind. He asked me if I have a ‘Google Home’ out of the blue! I wondered why, only to find out later that it could be an amazing solution for the blind kids to access audio textbooks without actually depending on anyone! He explained me how the kids can just ask Google to play out the chapters they want to listen to or the information they want to look answers for and they will get a response in seconds. As simple as it may sound, the idea is very noble. The next thing he asked me made me nervous. He asked me if I could take my Google Home to the blind school next to my campus and test if the idea is pragmatic. Although I am a scientist, I was skeptical if I am good enough to do this trial with those special children. I never interacted with special kids before and this was not only an exciting opportunity, but a responsible one too, whose results could potentially become a guiding light to many children.

The challenge of finding the special school

Iand Mythili Ravishankar, my colleague and friend, headed towards Malleswaram on the 29th of July 2018, a Sunday evening and reached the school only to find out that the school has been moved to Off Magadi Road. This was disappointing, the nervousness in me turned to an urge for interacting with the kids and that led me to visit Deepa Academy for Differently Abled the very next day.

The first person I encountered there was Mrs.Lalitha, a teacher, who happily gave me permission to interact with a group of seven kids who are in their ninth grade of schooling. I set my foot towards their classroom with a Google Home clasped to my hands and noticed that at this point my nervousness had made a comeback! I took a deep breath uttered “Hi kids” and was startled to realise that I was no more nervous because of their very first response filled with curiosity and warmth! I started off with knowing their names, their routine and realised that they had just returned from class. I asked them if they were too tired for me to bug them after their school hours for which they replied enthusiastically “not at all”!

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The warming up session with the kids

After sometime of casual familiarization, I asked them if they wanted to experience a device that could talk to them and can answer their curious questions. They nodded with a puzzled look of what I am talking about! I connected the ‘Google Home mini’ tethered to my android smartphone for internet and asked “Okay Google, where am I now?”. The Google Akka (‘Google Sister’ is what they called the device later) replied “You are at Deepa Academy for Differently Abled in Bharath Nagar, Bengaluru”. The kids jumped at their desks with amusement! I asked them if they want to question Google Akka! After assuring that Google Akka will definitely answer their questions, Ranjitha shooted the first question and asked who is the Chief Minister of Karnataka for which their Akka’s answer was received with an applause! The curiosity started to peak among the kids and they asked many random and specific questions and even played their favourite songs! And suddenly, inquisitive Shera asked me “Akka, can I do my homework with the help of Google Akka?” for which I told “try it”. They asked every question that was given to them as an assignment and found out answers for them! They were joyful that they could complete their task in minutes which otherwise took them a day!

We finally played Kannada Pustaka podcast on Google Home!

So delighted was I with them that I turned blind towards the time, it was dark by then and the kids were probably hungry as it was almost dinner time. After all the exciting, informative and joyful interaction the kids had, the most important objective of my visit was to test Kannada Pustaka audio textbooks. I went on to ask them if they would like to hear their textbook chapters from Google Akka. They wondered if that was actually possible to access their book chapters and asked me if Goggle Akka can render them textbooks in Kannada, the language they are most comfortable with. I urged them to ask Google Akka to “play Kannada Pustaka Podcast” and after a couple of tries, when Shera finally got the command right, it took a few seconds for the chapter to start playing! All the kids suddenly huddled around the Google Home and priceless was the moment for me personally to have witnessed that joy and satisfaction in them when this actually happened! And it worked! It worked like a charm and this happens to be the most exciting experiment I did till date and fetched me most satisfying results. Thanks Kannada Pustaka Initiative and Rakesh Tiwari for designing this amazing experiment for me and making me carve a beautiful memory of my first ever volunteer task. I am awaiting the next one!