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Strength lies in fighting against all odds and still achieving the peak - My Take by Aditi Shah, blind programmer

May 22, 2018

Aditi Shah lost her vision completely due to Retinitis Pigmentosa when she was 15 years old. On My Take this week, this young programmer tells Newz Hook about her journey and why she is such a strong advocate for accessible technology.

I was 11 when I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic disorder which deteriorates vision over time and I lost all my vision by the time I turned 15. Even then I had scored 92% in class 10 and I wanted to be an engineer.

But my dreams were shattered when no institute would accept me into science. "Blind people cannot study Math and Science", is what I was told at every door I knocked. I finally resigned and took up commerce. It was in my class eleven when I learned about various assistive technologies available for the blind and the candle of hope was rekindled.

I quickly equipped myself with using screen readers and OCR software and I no longer needed to rely upon any human whenever I desired to read. and it was then that I realized that I should get into the field of technology which would not only enable me to lead an independent life as a professional but also help people like me to explore the world with the help of these assistive technologies.

Fighting the odds

I stood among the Top 3 in Mumbai in class 12 and qualified myself to get into Bachelors in Information Technology. The journey in BSc (IT) was not a simple one. There was no accessible study material and no disability support. I had to sit through lectures listening to the sound of chalk on the board and imagining complex mathematics and circuit diagrams in my head. However, I realize that the strength is in fighting against all odds and still achieving the peak.

Studying involved spending long hours scanning textbooks and correcting OCR errors before I could read them, but I had pledged to achieve my goals, my persistence was just the journey. I topped in each semester in my college and even stood fourth at the university level at the end of the course.

The perception battle

After this I continued my education and completed my Master of Science in I.T in 2015. Throughout my journey in STEM, I feel that the biggest challenge I have faced is not because of my vision impairment but because of other people's perception of my vision impairment. Like I was not allowed to participate in any of the placement interviews at college in spite of my outstanding academic performance. No company could just believe that I could code without being able to see.

I was fortunate to get my first break with Iraje in 2013, they gave me an opportunity to be a part of the team that was developing an Identity and Access Management solution, Iraje PIM. I continue working there at present in the capacity of Product Manager.

Now when I look back, getting into Technology has been one of the best decisions of my life. If your code works, you are ABLE, else DISABLE; nothing else matters. Since the age of 18 I have been training students with visual impairment for using assistive technologies and becoming independent. I always tell my students that the best part of life is when your passion becomes your profession and they must follow their heart and not hesitate from pursuing STEM careers just because it is the path less traveled.

I am looking forward to more blind individuals, specially girls, get into fields like technology and pave the path for future generations. In today's digital age it's not the visually challenged people who are disabled, but the technology which is disabled due to lack of accessibility.

Forging a new future

It has become one of my objectives in life to spread as much awareness as I can about creating equal access for persons with visual impairment. Currently I do this through the NGO I am associated with called Blind Graduates Forum of India (BGFI). At BGFI, we conduct monthly sessions focused on knowledge sharing or experiential learning for topics revolving around persons with visual impairment.

We also take up advocacy and campaigns to sensitize and ensure equal access for all blind individuals to foster independent living. I consider each day of my life as an opportunity to do what I have never done before, to become a better version of myself and to convert the ignorant world into an inclusive one!

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