AIR jockey designs chess board for visually impaired players

The project aims to collect Rs 5 lakh through crowd-funding and make 1,000 chess boards available to players.

Written by Stuti Shukla | Mumbai | Published:June 17, 2013 1:01 am

That only 1,500 out of the 5,000 registered blind or partially blind chess players in India are active due to poor access to specially designed chess-boards,was a constant cause of worry for Pankaj Athawle. Having witnessed the woes of visually challenged chess players for years,the 35-year-old sports commentator launched ‘Vision 64’ on Friday — an initiative to design and manufacture such boards for Indian players as per international standards.

Named so because of the 64 squares on a chess board,the 90-day project — that went live on June 14 — aims to collect Rs 5 lakh through a crowd-funding website called wishberry.in and make 1000 such chess boards available to visually impaired chess players across India.

Athawle,who works for All India Radio’s Rainbow FM channel,had received contributions totalling Rs 10,000 till Sunday. While he is currently relying on social media sites and personal blogs to spread the word,he hopes to rope in cricketers to urge people to donate.

“Chess is the only game where a visually challenged person can compete with a sighted person on an equal footing without any change in rules. This bridges the gap between the able and the disabled,” said Athawle.

He was deeply disappointed at the state of infrastructure available with sports associations. The only chess boards for the visually challenged persons currently available in India are wooden,heavy,large in size,expensive,cumbersome to carry and limited in number.

“Chess requires constant practice. But in the present scenario,players can practise only at associations. The need of the hour is to make available light-weight foldable boards that players can have at their homes and carry around. Having spent over four years interviewing these players as part of my job,I felt it was a pity that such boards are not available in India,” said Athawle.

This chess board is unique in its structure and colour. The black squares are green in colour,and the white pieces are cream in colour. This helps the partially blind players to identify the cream pieces over the white background and the black pieces over the light green background. The green squares are raised 2-3 mm over the white ones so that the blind players can feel the boards and make a mental map of the game in real time. The black coins have a dot on top to distinguish them from the cream coins. It measures 12 inches by 12 inches as compared to the wooden board that is one foot by one foot. The coins have a small pin on the bottom and the squares have a hole so that the coins stay put.

Athawle designed the board in consultation with visually challenged chess players. The perfect shade of green was arrived at after taking inputs from partially blind players. Finally,with dye-makers and plastic moulders,Athawle has readied 50 boards at his own cost and the first batch of 30 boards will be handed over in Mumbai on June 23.

stuti.shukla@expressindia.com

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