Paras Jain remembers his school principal’s reaction when he told him about his decision to pursue engineering.
“He told me you are making a big mistake. Instead pursue arts,” Jain says. Now 22, Jain is happy he chose a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), even though the graduation period for the visually challenged student was tough with lack of access to physical infrastructure in college and zero availability of digital books to support students like Jain.
Jain is in his final year now. Along with nine visually challenged persons, he has co-founded a group. They are approaching colleges and blind students on social media platforms to encourage a career in STEM. Together they are
building a digital archive of books on STEM for students like them to access.
“I have been passionate about technology. Students who are blind have been deprived of education in science and engineering. The government colleges have little infrastructure support,” Jain says. He would often sit in class not knowing which code or diagram was being drawn by the teacher on the board.
The idea to encourage visually impaired students to pursue STEM, areas where lucrative careers are available, was not born overnight. It came slowly over months and the group officially started in 2016. Neha Trivedi, attached to the Xaviers Research Centre for Visually Disabled, says, “Usually it is considered that people with blindness can’t get into STEM careers. The point is it is possible, but how to create better awareness on it?”
About 30 students and professionals have joined this group, their interaction mostly through online platforms. “Together, we are trying to improve technological challenges a blind person faces, say for instance, in reading a diagram, or understanding a code,” says Akashdeep Bansal (25) who is pursuing a PhD in computer science.
He suffers from a congenital disease, retinitis pigmentosa, which first causes loss of night vision and slowly progresses to loss of peripheral vision.
“I have reached a point where I can’t read printed books, so I use e-books with better brightness and large font,” he says. The group, he adds, is also attempting to sensitise industry that the visually impaired can excel at such jobs. Several professionals working abroad, with similar disabilities, have lent their support.
Abhisar Waghmare (20), who is pursuing computer science, says a hackathon was arranged to change the mindset of industry people. “It is stereotypical to think we can’t work. Once we break the myth, it is easy to work with the visually challenged,” he said. He lost his vision three years ago in a road accident.
Another group member, Rishabh Jain, landed an internship in Microsoft this March. “We forwarded resumes of all candidates to the company, they fortunately got back to us,” Waghmare says.
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