Education

Podcast #95 – Hearing a solution: Student creates technology to help people with visual impairments learn science

By Rudina Vojvoda

On the occasion of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on 3 December, Beyond School Books speaks with Kartik Sawhney, who has created his own methods of learning.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 26 November 2014 – Students of science frequently deal with detailed information expressed in charts, graphs and diagrams. For Kartik Sawhney, who has been blind since birth, the visual demands of his science studies presented a challenge. So he devised a solution: software that allowed him to hear the graphs. 

AUDIO: Listen now

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0740/Markisz
Kartik Sawhney addresses the audience at the UNICEF Activate Talk on “Youth with Disabilities and Innovation: Making the World Inclusive for ALL!”

The invention is part of a series of conventions and technologies that Sawhney had to adapt for himself in order to pursue science studies in New Delhi.

His experience pursuing academic challenges has provided him with a deep appreciation for the role technology can play in the lives and education of children with disabilities.

“Whatever I am today, it is all because of technology, the assistive technology I use,” he says.

Sawhney spoke with Alex Goldmark, moderator of Beyond School Books, a podcast on education in emergencies and in post-crisis countries. Their conversation marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year’s theme is Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology.

In the interview, Sawhney talks about growing up in India without access to many assistive technologies. He had to type out books and develop conventions and technologies that would allow him to succeed in his studies.

The idea for Sawhney’s graph-deciphering software came to him in a calculus class, he says. Tapping into his passion for music, he devised a way to use musical notes to express the up and down slopes of a graph. During his summer break, he wrote the code for the software.

“Through the variation in these musical notes, it tries to give you an idea of how the graph might be laid like,” he said.
Sawhney is now a computer science student at Stanford. But the California university was not his first choice. He had hoped to study in India. But unrealistic guidelines imposed by a top university there meant he was unable to compete in the entrance exam.

Sawhney’s experience has shown him that there are assistive technologies available for those who can afford the high price tags – technologies that would have made it easier for him to study science as a child.

This realization is one of the reasons Sawhney says he has no plans to commercialize his invention. Instead, he wants it to be open source software available to students everywhere. 


 

 

Audio

UNICEF talks to Kartik Sawhney about how technology has enabled him to overcome visual impairment and pursue learning sciences.
AUDIO: Listen now

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