Bringing about equality in access to education

Intro- Karti Sawhney has been awarded the Queen’s Young Leaders Award at the Buckingham Palace. What makes his achievement even more special is that he is visually challenged. He inspires today’s youth, including the specially-abled, to widen their horizons in Science & Maths ….

How does it feel to be recognized for your achievement- royally?

It feels great. I couldn’t believe that I was actually meeting The Queen. It was absolutely amazing. But, more than that, the recognition validates my work, it encourages me to go forward with even more passion and dedication.

You could not pursue your passion in Class XI nor at IIT. How did you deal with the disappointment?

I was able to pursue science in class XI after nine months of persuasion, but I could not live my IIT dream. It was definitely frustrating to see the insensitivity and the lack of willingness

to understand my perspective on the part of officials, but I do not have any regrets about it personally anymore. Stanford is an amazing place-the best that I could have ever asked for. Not only are people much more understanding, but the resources and the opportunities are immense. 95% in CBSE examination.

How did you surmount the challenges, given your disadvantage?

I am fortunate to have a very supportive family, friends and teachers who helped me through that journey. My mom would often read out my textbooks to me for hours and my friends would describe visual content after classes. It also took a great deal of innovation to overcome challenges. For instance.

How does a blind student understand graphs? How to represent an organic chemistry molecule on a computer just by using a keyboard?

We came up with our own conventions that supplemented the standard conventions that helped me do all of thing successfully.

Tell us about your journey of universalizing science for the visually impaired?

Once I settled down at Stanford, I realized that not everyone wanted to come to the US to pursue higher education. That is when I decided that the system needs to change at home. I had already filed a legal case against the IITs for not being able to provide me the necessary reasonable accommodations, and it was great to see the institute change its rules for their entrance exam a year after I was supposed to take it. I also collaborated with an NGO and started exploring technology available in the west that could be used in India to enhance math and science access for blind students. In the process, I conducted hands-on sessions in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai to bring about awareness on math and science access and motivate my juniors to consider these disciplines. I also shared the resources and software that I had developed when I was studying sciences, and started mentoring these students to ensure they did not have to go through the same challenges that I had to face.

Tell us about Project STEMAccess?

Project STEMAccess is an official name for all that I described in the previous answer-hands- on sessions to encourage students to pursue math and science, virtual tutorials, mentoring sessions, sharing resources and a place to ask questions. What is the goal of this project and how is it achieved? The goal of the project is to help students achieve success in STEM careers. We do so by working closely with students through various activities as described above, as well as by working closely with technical schools to ensure that they are more sensitive.

What are your future aspirations?

I want to develop technology that can empower all people around the world to help them achieve their maximum potential.

Any message to the specially-abled?

Look beyond your limitations, identify your strengths and hone them. Every person on this planet has a unique strength and a perspective to offer.

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