'Think beyond & work towards your goals' - My Take by Kartik Sawhney
June 4, 2019
In My Take this week, we have Kartik Sawhney, a visually impaired disability rights activist and software engineer who works with Microsoft in the United States.
I was a science enthusiast from my teenage. I was visually impaired from birth. I hail from Delhi, and my family has been very supportive of my dreams and aspirations. During childhood, my parents tried to help me out in many ways. I was introduced to the National Association for Blind where I learnt many specific skills. I completed my class 10 and 12 from Delhi Public School (DPS) and scored a 95.8% for my class 12 exams in science stream. My real tryst with science began from then. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in science and started working towards it.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had hard rules for blind students. It took me more than nine months to convince them that I can pursue the syllabus. It was at DPS that I nurtured my science skills. I used to participate in many activities. I also met a bunch of friends with whom I could collaborate for my ventures. It boosted my confidence.
It was a struggle to convince CBSE syllabus officials to pursue my class 12. It was mainly because there were no blind students whom they could take as a successful example. There were no facilities for blind students or nothing exclusive. The facilities that were available were very expensive. Since I was from a middle-class family, I clearly could not avail those ones. Hence, I developed my own software and used to take exams on my computer-Kartik Sawhney
The many struggles to pursue passion
After my schooling, I wanted to continue my higher education at the Indian Institute of Technology. But I was denied admissions saying that they never had any visually impaired students. They even told me that they cannot give me admissions even if I qualify for the tests as they did not have facilities to provide education to those who are visually impaired.
After that, I had to literally battle for my rights. I did not take any exams and worked towards inclusion at IIT's for almost three years. Finally, the courts gave me a relief saying that IIT was being unreasonable.
"I used to think about the life that I would have at IIT even if I get admitted. It was not inclusive for disabled people. I clearly lost hope. That is when I started looking into inclusive universities across the globe. Stanford University at United States was inclusive for visually impaired students. So I decided to apply and got through. I completed my Bachelors and Masters in Computer Science from Stanford, says Sawhney.
I realised that it is high-time that things in India changes. Education has to be more inclusive. IIT's told me that they wanted to work with me to know how to make their campus and education system more inclusive and disabled friendly. I'am glad that they did that because visually impaired students are now being admitted into IIT's.
I want to support more disabled students in India to help them get the best education from top universities. In 2016, I launched the Nextbillion.org which is a global mentorship programme for students with disabilities. With Inclusive Stem (I-Stem) programme, we want to bring together disabled and non disabled students interested in science and technology to work together.
My main aim is to work towards an inclusive educational system in India. Many ask me whether I plan to come down. But I have mixed feelings because right now, I'am at a good spot where there is a cutting end of technology. I get to work with the best people in the United States. That way, I can have a good impact on India. I'am optimistic about the current situation in India and that it is going to change for the good.
In the US, everything is organised and systematic. Similar things can be done in India too. We must work together to create mass awareness.
"Nothing is impossible. Think beyond and work towards your goals. More companies are being sensitised and that is a great thing. Let us look towards the brighter side, says Sawhney.
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