Blind Microsoft engineer Aditi Shah inspires disabled women to pursue their dreams
Blind programmer Aditi Shah is all set to join Microsoft as an engineer on its security response centre team. Aditi has just finished a master’s degree Georgia Tech in the United States. She wants to inspire blind women in India to pursue careers in STEM.
What an adventure it’s been for Mumbai girl Aditi Shah. The 27-year-old blind programmer from Mumbai has successfully completed a master’s degree in cybersecurity from the prestigious Georgia Tech in the United States. Aditi will join Microsoft as an engineer. She will be a part of the tech giant’s security response centre team, where she will apply machine learning and artificial intelligence to Microsoft’s security data.
Lost vision due to retinitis pigmentosa
Aditi is the first person in her family to study in the US. She was 11 years old when she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. This is a genetic eye disorder that progressively reduces a person’s vision. Cells that perceive light start dying, reducing the affected person’s vision.
By the time Aditi was 15, she lost most of her vision. She could no longer read, write, or function independently. She never gave up on her ambition to study engineering and scored 92% in her class 10 exams. Yet no institute would admit her because she was blind.
In an earlier interview to Newz Hook, Aditi talked about how the setback affected her.
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 class 11 when I learned about the 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 one person whenever I desired to read. – Aditi Shah, Engineer, Microsoft
Assistive tech key to achieving independence
In technology, Aditi found the path to leading an independent life as a professional. “It would also help people like me explore the world with the help of these assistive technologies”.
Aditi did a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information technology from the University of Mumbai. While working for a cybersecurity company in Mumbai she decided to study the field further and earned certifications in computer hacking. She then applied for a master’s degree at Georgia Tech.
Support at many levels offered at Georgia Tech
Negotiating her way around the Georgia Tech campus by herself was quite a challenge. Aditi was away from her family and had to figure her way around unassisted.
“In India I always had people to help me out”, she said in an interview to News Center, the Georgia Tech website. “I didn’t have to figure out a lot of things by myself. I was here, many miles away from home and trying to figure out everything. The first couple of months were really challenging”.
Aditi benefitted immensely from the support system at Georgia Tech. She was given a mobility trainer who taught her how to use a white cane and get to classes by herself. Aditi describes this as a “special journey”. “This is where I took my first independent walk. I lived alone. It was hard, but I think I am a completely new person as I leave Tech”.
The support offered by her professors and fellow students helped as well. “I had to figure out a lot of workarounds. I spent double or triple the time that someone sighted might spend on the same thing. Still, I had a much better experience than I had in India, where the material was never available electronically, so I had to scan everything. Here, everything was electronic.”
Microsoft engineer Aditi aims to inspire other blind people, especially blind women, who are interested in pursuing careers in STEM. A lot of blind women hesitate to pursue a STEM career as they are unable to have a meaningful career.
In Mumbai, she actively worked with the group Blind Graduates Forum of India (BGFI) in conducting monthly sessions focused on knowledge sharing or experiential learning for topics revolving around visually impaired persons.
“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”, says Aditi.
- Strength lies in fighting against all odds and still achieving the peak – My Take by Aditi Shah, blind programmer