Visually impaired 34-yr-old has flown a plane, is now a Young Global Leader

Goyal went on to become the first visually impaired person to get admission into the Wharton Business School, Pennsylvania.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Published: March 22, 2015 1:11:59 am
Ashihs Goyal, Smriti Irani, Young Global leaders Ashish Goyal is in the 2015 list of Young Global Leaders, along with 10 other Indians, including Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani.

Ashish Goyal was never one to be in the doldrums, except once when he accidentally bumped into a female teacher in 2001, his final graduation year. Furious, the teacher insulted him in a crowd of students assuming he’d walked into her intentionally. That’s when he started using a white cane—for him it was acceptance, for others a signal that he is visually impaired.

Goyal went on to become the first visually impaired person to get admission into the Wharton Business School, Pennsylvania, and later became the first trader with this impairment at J P Morgan. This year, the World Economic Forum has listed Goyal in the 2015 list of Young Global Leaders (YGLs), along with 10 other Indians, including Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani, MP Gaurav Gogoi and Lehar Foods (Pepsi) CEO Shalini Puchalapalli.

His younger sister Nidhi Goyal (29), also visually impaired, secured a position at the London School of Economics. She has travelled across the globe to support the cause of gender and disability issues. Meet Nidhi, and she looks into your eye while talking. Only when she discloses her impairment do people notice it. The siblings suffer from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare inherited degenerative disorder that gradually impairs vision over several years. Their parents, however, claim they have not found the disorder in four generations of the family’s history.

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Ashish (24) was diagnosed with RP, which is seen one in 4,000 people, when he was seven years old, and Nidhi when she was 14. He lost complete vision by 22, a time when other boys his age “checked out girls”. From a dream to become a tennis player, he switched his ambition towards financial markets. He worked with ING Vysya’s treasury department in Bangalore then applied for Wharton School. Today, he is a portfolio manager at Bluecrest Capital, London.

A headphone attached to the computer and his phone, he uses ‘Jaws’, a software that rapidly reads out everything to him from the screen even as his colleagues struggle to comprehend such fast audio. That’s how he works—he imagines the possible charts and graphs by listening to the data, he keeps a tab on foreign markets by listening to the trends from 3 am.

And, he also watches movies, plays and has even flown a plane. “I went on a trip to Lake Placid where I took an aircraft ride. I joked that I wanted to fly the plane, the pilot simply gave me all the controls for half an hour,” laughs Ashish.

As a kid, he took tennis and cricket lessons and drove a vehicle when he was eight. “You put the wrong gear in the car, and he’ll tell you that,” says Nidhi. The watchman at their Malad apartment, Ranchod Purshottam, remembers how Ashish came down every day to play cricket in the building compound. “He continued to come even when he started losing his sight,” he said.

While sports was a distraction, his father Ashok admits education was tough. During exams, the entire family felt they were taking an exam. His elder sister used to read out to him while his father would run around for permissions for a writer and reader. “The onus of making all arrangements is on the disabled, not the government,” said Ashok.

The children credit their parents for handling the untreatable disease. “Our parents did not let us loose hope, even when Ashish was considering to give up everything and join our father’s business in real estate,” Nidhi says.

Ashish got married last December. Over phone, he discusses how he takes the tube in London to get to work. Despite his busy schedule, Ashish follows cricket closely and “worships” Sachin Tendulkar.

tabassum.barnagarwala@expressindia.com

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