Microsoft Research fellow Venkatesh Potluri has never let lack of vision be a barrier to a brilliant career

Venkatesh Potluri from Hyderabad was born with a vision impairment. Something that he never allowed to come in the way of what has been a brilliant academic career.

Throughout his childhood, Potluri came up with ways to use regular objects as assistive materials. He would build figures by sticking matchsticks and thread on paper to understand geometry. He went on to operate computers with the help of screen readers, a software that converts text-to-speech.

However, the barriers were many. Even though Potluri passed his Intermediate with 85%, he was stopped from taking the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE). He was also denied admission at most top engineering colleges because he was blind.

Potluri says he was disappointed at being denied the opportunity to study just because of his disability. Thanks to the support from his parents, he stayed positive.

After a six-month struggle, he finally gained admission to the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIIT-H). Even there he faced many challenges, like finding accessible mathematical content to study. The complex equations and other such technical study material were not easy to understand due to their visual representation.

That led him to focus on accessibility and assistive technology while doing his research paper. To improve the future prospects of blind students who want to take up STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) courses, Potluri came up with unique techniques.

The techniques are such that they render mathematical content in audio. This way blind students can understand and answer math questions with 95% accuracy.

His work has been presented at the 30th Technology in Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego. It has also been published at the 11th International Conference on Natural Language Processing in Goa.

Potluri , who is just 25 years old, is currently a Research Fellow at Microsoft Research Lab India in Bengaluru. He plans to continue working on accessibility and assistive technology to improve technology for people with disabilities.

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