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Naga Naresh Karutura has just passed out of IIT Madras in Computer Science and has joined Google in Bangalore.

You may ask, what’s so special about this 21-year-old when there are hundreds of students passing out from various IITs and joining big companies like Google?

Naresh is special. His parents are illiterate. He has no legs and moves around in his powered wheel chair. (In fact, when I could not locate his lab, he told me over the mobile phone, ‘I will come and pick you up’. And in no time, he was there to guide me)

Ever smiling, optimistic and full of spirit; that is Naresh. He says, “God has always been planning things for me. That is why I feel I am lucky.”

Read why Naresh feels he is lucky.

Childhood in a village
I spent the first seven years of my life in Teeparru, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, on the banks of the river Godavari. My father Prasad was a lorry driver and my mother Kumari, a house wife. Though they were illiterate, my parents instilled in me and my elder sister (Sirisha) the importance of studying.

Looking back, one thing that surprises me now is the way my father taught me when I was in the 1st and 2nd standards. My father would ask me questions from the text book, and I would answer them. At that time, I didn’t know he could not read or write but to make me happy, he helped me in my studies!

Another memory that doesn’t go away is the floods in the village and how I was carried on top of a buffalo by my uncle. I also remember plucking fruits from a tree that was full of thorns.

I used to be very naughty, running around and playing all the time with my friends. I used to get a lot of scolding for disturbing the elders who slept in the afternoon. The moment they started scolding, I would run away to the fields!

I also remember finishing my school work fast in class and sleeping on the teacher’s lap!

January 11, 1993, the fateful day
On the January 11, 1993 when we had the sankranti holidays, my mother took my sister and me to a nearby village for a family function. From there we were to go with our grandmother to our native place. But my grandmother did not come there. As there were no buses that day, my mother took a lift in my father’s friend’s lorry. As there were many people in the lorry, he made me sit next to him, close to the door.

It was my fault; I fiddled with the door latch and it opened wide throwing me out. As I fell, my legs got cut by the iron rods protruding from the lorry. Nothing happened to me except scratches on my legs.

The accident had happened just in front of a big private hospital but they refused to treat me saying it was an accident case. Then a police constable who was passing by took us to a government hospital.

First I underwent an operation as my small intestine got twisted. The doctors also bandaged my legs. I was there for a week. When the doctors found that gangrene had developed and it had reached up to my knees, they asked my father to take me to a district hospital. There, the doctors scolded my parents a lot for neglecting the wounds and allowing the gangrene to develop. But what could my ignorant parents do?

In no time, both my legs were amputated up to the hips.

I remember waking up and asking my mother, where are my legs? I also remember that my mother cried when I asked the question. I was in the hospital for three months.

Life without legs
I don’t think my life changed dramatically after I lost both my legs. Because all at home were doting on me, I was enjoying all the attention rather than pitying myself. I was happy that I got a lot of fruits and biscuits.

‘I never wallowed in self-pity’

The day I reached my village, my house was flooded with curious people; all of them wanted to know how a boy without legs looked. But I was not bothered; I was happy to see so many of them coming to see me, especially my friends!

All my friends saw to it that I was part of all the games they played; they carried me everywhere.

God’s hand
I believe in God. I believe in destiny. I feel he plans everything for you. If not for the accident, we would not have moved from the village to Tanuku, a town. There I joined a missionary school, and my father built a house next to the school. Till the tenth standard, I studied in that school.

If I had continued in Teeparu, I may not have studied after the 10th. I may have started working as a farmer or someone like that after my studies. I am sure God had other plans for me.

My sister, my friend
When the school was about to reopen, my parents moved from Teeparu to Tanuku, a town, and admitted both of us in a Missionary school. They decided to put my sister also in the same class though she is two years older. They thought she could take care of me if both of us were in the same class. My sister never complained.

She would be there for everything. Many of my friends used to tell me, you are so lucky to have such a loving sister. There are many who do not care for their siblings.

She carried me in the school for a few years and after a while, my friends took over the task. When I got the tricycle, my sister used to push me around in the school.

My life, I would say, was normal, as everyone treated me like a normal kid. I never wallowed in self-pity. I was a happy boy and competed with others to be on top and the others also looked at me as a competitor.

Inspiration
I was inspired by two people when in school; my Maths teacher Pramod Lal who encouraged me to participate in various local talent tests, and a brilliant boy called Chowdhary, who was my senior.

When I came to know that he had joined Gowtham Junior College to prepare for IIT-JEE, it became my dream too. I was school first in 10th scoring 542/600.

Because I topped in the state exams, Gowtham Junior College waived the fee for me. Pramod Sir’s recommendation also helped. The fee was around Rs 50,000 per year, which my parents could never afford.

Moving to a residential school
Living in a residential school was a big change for me because till then my life centred around home and school and I had my parents and sister to take care of all my needs. It was the first time that I was interacting with society. It took one year for me to adjust to the new life.

There, my inspiration was a boy called K K S Bhaskar who was in the top 10 in IIT-JEE exams. He used to come to our school to encourage us. Though my parents didn’t know anything about Gowtham Junior School or IIT, they always saw to it that I was encouraged in whatever I wanted to do. If the results were good, they would praise me to the skies and if bad, they would try to see something good in that. They did not want me to feel bad.

They are such wonderful supportive parents.

Life at IIT- Madras
Though my overall rank in the IIT-JEE was not that great (992), I was 4th in the physically handicapped category. So, I joined IIT, Madras to study Computer Science.

Here, my role model was Karthik who was also my senior in school. I looked up to him during my years at IIT- Madras.

He had asked for attached bathrooms for those with special needs before I came here itself. So, when I came here, the room had attached bath. He used to help me and guide me a lot when I was here.

I evolved as a person in these four years, both academically and personally. It has been a great experience studying here. The people I was interacting with were so brilliant that I felt privileged to sit along with them in the class. Just by speaking to my lab mates, I gained a lot.

‘There are more good people in society than bad ones’

Words are inadequate to express my gratitude to Prof Pandurangan and all my lab mates; all were simply great. I was sent to Boston along with four others for our internship by Prof Pandurangan. It was a great experience.

Joining Google R&D
I did not want to pursue PhD as I wanted my parents to take rest now.

Morgan Stanley selected me first but I preferred Google because I wanted to work in pure computer science, algorithms and game theory.

I am lucky
Do you know why I say I am lucky?

I get help from total strangers without me asking for it. Once after my second year at IIT, I with some of my friends was travelling in a train for a conference. We met a kind gentleman called Sundar in the train, and he has been taking care of my hostel fees from then on.

I have to mention about Jaipur foot. I had Jaipur foot when I was in 3rd standard. After two years, I stopped using them. As I had almost no stems on my legs, it was very tough to tie them to the body. I found walking with Jaipur foot very, very slow. Sitting also was a problem. I found my tricycle faster because I am one guy who wants to do things faster.

One great thing about the hospital is, they don’t think their role ends by just fixing the Jaipur foot; they arrange for livelihood for all. They asked me what help I needed from them. I told them at that time, if I got into an IIT, I needed financial help from them. So, from the day I joined IIT, Madras, my fees were taken care of by them. So, my education at the IIT was never a burden on my parents and they could take care of my sister’s Nursing studies.

Surprise awaited me at IIT
After my first year, when I went home, two things happened here at the Institute without my knowledge.

I got a letter from my department that they had arranged a lift and ramps at the department for me. It also said that if I came a bit early and checked whether it met with my requirements, it would be good.

Second surprise was, the Dean, Prof Idichandy and the Students General Secretary, Prasad had located a place that sold powered wheel chairs. The cost was Rs 55,000. What they did was, they did not buy the wheel chair; they gave me the money so that the wheel chair belonged to me and not the institute.

My life changed after that. I felt free and independent.

That’s why I say I am lucky. God has planned things for me and takes care of me at every step.

The world is full of good people
I also feel if you are motivated and show some initiative, people around you will always help you. I also feel there are more good people in society than bad ones. I want all those who read this to feel that if Naresh can achieve something in life, you can too.

Note: This is a mail forward I received, so I thought of posting it here for more people to get inspired.

We are currently trying to enrich the user experience when it comes to accessing content on inclusiveplanet.com. We realized that there is a lot of free content available on the net, but not all websites are accessible. So over the next couple of months we intend to get permission from individuals and organisations, who have already put up their content on the net. Our initiative will serve two purposes:-

1) Make the content easily accessible to the blind at one single place

2)Provide our members with a wider choice of rich content. This would especially help those who have just learnt computers, and aren’t aware of the plethora of reading options available on the net.

We are getting in touch with a range of content providers across different categories like news, religion, entertainment, education and so on. We are looking at getting their permission to put the content on our website so that it can be easily accessed by the blind. For this initiative, we intend to use the channels on Inclusiveplanet.com. Channels have the ability to import RSS feeds as well, so it immediately makes sharing of content possible. The channel would have the name of the content provider, and content will be attributed to them. The RSS feeds will pull in content from the content provider’s website to the inclusiveplanet.com channel, and thus make it “accessible” for the blind.

You can get involved in this initiative in the following ways:-

a) If you are a content provider, and would love to see your content on inclusiveplanet.com, then do get in touch with us.

b) If you are interested in volunteering, you can take up projects to aggregate different types of content onto Inclusive Planet

Do write to us at contact@inclusiveplanet.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Check out this video of 21 year old Vinod Thakur whose Dad is a truck driver, and mom is a housewife. He works in a mobile reparing shop to become financially independent so that he can fund his education. He doesn’t have legs but his passion is hip hop dancing. He has just started learning hip hop and has already set the stage on fire at the India’s Got Talent show.

Hi all!

If you want to work on a project that combines social impact and community building and bleeding edge technology and design challenges then Inclusive Planet might just have that experience you’re looking for!

We’re looking for part-time and full-time interns / volunteers in the following areas:

1. Engaging deeply with our 4000+ user community and nurture it through content, guided interaction and plain old solid listening; we have a performance linked stipend for both full time and part time interns. If you’re already a member of our community then that’s even better because anyone interacting with the community needs to bring the perspective of a community member;

2. Helping our team collect the right seed content, either by aggregating from other sources through partnerships or by creating our own. In case you’re wondering what seed content is – it’s the content that you put on your site to draw users in the early days where user-generated / shared content sites like ours don’t have enough user-generated/shared content to attract new users.

3. Working on a new technology and design-led project to create tools/products that could tremendously increase access to the web for the print-impaired. Here you could do research, actually help on tech creation or in the design process etc.

In case you’re interested in the work we do please write in to founders@inclusiveplanet.com. We welcome students, professionals and all else with time to spare and a curious mind to apply to some of the most interesting problems out there. Thanks!

SM

We are glad to tell you that Inclusive Planet has been accredited as an observer to the WIPO – World Intellectual Property Organization.

Rahul Cherian is present at the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights happening at the moment in Switzerland.

Following is the statement of Inclusive Planet, India on the matter of the Treaty for the Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled, proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico  and Paraguay.

June 21, 2010

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates and ladies and gentlemen , I thank the WIPO Secretariat for processing our accreditation to the WIPO as an observer and the decision of this Committee to accredit my organization. I represent Inclusive Planet Foundation, a non profit organisation based in India, focusing on policy reform in the disability space as a part of which we have been campaigning in India for appropriate amendments to Indian copyright law to create exceptions and limitations to enable persons with disabilities to access material in alternate formats. Our sister organisation, a for profit organization runs Inclusivelanet.com, one of the fastest growing social networks for persons with visual impairment, with users from 80 countries. Inclusive Planet’s Services division provides technology solutions and consultancy to organisations related to web and content accessibility.

Mr. Chairman, Inclusive Planet Foundation believes that the Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay is essential to improve the lives of the millions of persons with disabilities in India and we are extremely supportive of the Treaty for the following reasons:

1. Firstly, We believe that in India and other developing countries where large funding for conversion and distribution is not available, and where there are no institutional intermediaries with the kind of reach, infrastructure and financial support as the intermediaries in the US and Europe, all stakeholders including NGOs, educational institutions, libraries, persons with disabilities , parents and volunteers must be allowed to convert and distribute and import and export material in accessible formats. The Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay allows for this. Any proposal which limits these activities only to intermediaries that have the support of rightholders will not be of any great benefit to India or other developing countries.

2. Secondly, We believe it is important that persons with hearing impairment and persons with other disabilities who need alternate formats must not be discriminated against and be left behind. The Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay covers not only persons with print disabilities but also persons with other disabilities who require alternate formats. Other proposals in the table have also good definitions of beneficiaries. We believe that any proposal which extends only to persons with print disabilities will be unjust.

3. Thirdly, We believe that non-commercial conversion and distribution should not require payment to rights holders keeping in mind the cost and effort taken in such conversion and distribution. We also believe that rights holders must be compensated for commercial conversion and distribution. The Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay provides for these two options. We believe that this system will incentivize rights holders to convert and sell material in accessible formats at affordable prices, which we believe is the only long term solution to solving the book famine.

4. Lastly, We believe that for-profit entities who wish to undertake conversion on a not-for-profit basis must be permitted to do so. It has been our experience in India that large corporations wish to convert material into accessible formats as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives on a non-commercial basis. This must be encouraged. The Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay provides for this. We believe that any proposal that does not recognize the roles that can be played by for-profit entities is limited and will not contribute to long term solutions.

In short Mr. Chairman, the ground realities in India and other developing countries are completely different from those in the United States and in Europe. In India and other developing countries, people with disabilities need all the help we can get, from all parties willing to help. Any proposal that recognizes only intermediaries as part of the solution will be of extremely limited impact in India. We believe that the Treaty for the Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled, proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay is THE proposal which addresses the needs of persons with disabilities in developing countries. We urge member states to support the treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay if any meaningful change is to be made to the lives of millions of persons with disabilities around the world and especially in developing countries including India.

To read more about the other treaties, see Comparison of the four proposals on disabilities at WIPO SCCR.

For the technology practitioner who works in the area of getting her solutions to work well for a diverse audience, there are a few related but often ambiguous terms that float around. Accessibility, usability, design …

For those of us who are particularly concerned about ensuring that web applications fit the needs of an audience with different faculties, there are a set of standards that are laid out that presumably will tell us how to do this. The question often comes up – is it worth the effort following standards like the W3C WCAG standard? There is a profusion of articles on the web that detail how standards compliance can be achieved and there are organizations who will help you, the web asset owner, get to standards compliance. What is often not that clear is the question of – what will WCAG compliance do for my users? How will my web asset benefit from this exercise? Does WCAG compliance mean that ALL users can use my web site ‘equitably’?

Focusing on the WCAG standard as an example, the standards body has stated that the goal of defining “how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities”. The standards body has decided, I believe consciously, to not precisely define accessibility. Also note the comparative term “more accessible” is chosen instead of a more absolute or superlative term. There is an air of tentativeness, which again, I would think, is a conscious choice.

There are a few more factors to consider:

  1. Standards, in its final form often represent less than the state of the art in technology due to the long life cycle of the standards process itself. This is also clear from the facts that often even as a particular standard is in the stages of approval, work on the next standards commences.
  2. Standards bodies often need to come up with a least common denominator in its specification and in the interest of expediency, generally have to choose to ignore complicated or controversial issues.
  3. Some of the issues related to accessibility, are so entwined in issues of usability and design, that it is difficult to make concrete standards without making assumptions about the nature of use of the system, the faculty set of the user and other environmental factors. In the continuum of accessibility-usability-design, the standards are only able to address the safe generalities than the highly variable specifics.

The points above should not be read as criticisms of standards, but merely as an observation of the facts.

Now, switching over to the practice side, take the classic cases where a web or digital asset owner takes the steps towards ensuring diversity. She is often driven by one or more of the following:

  • Social and values based reasons– CSR for companies, social pressure for individuals
  • I care about diversity, and want to make sure that there are no barriers in my organization for people with a non-standard set of faculties
  • I have a digital asset and want to come across to others as someone who cares about diversity
  • Regulatory and Legal
  • I need to comply to the accessibility rules/regulations/laws of my country/state/association in relation to and if I don’t there is a possible negative consequence
  • Commercial
  • I or one of my customers have or will have an audience or customers that is diverse and needs accessibility
  • I or one of my customers need to show some others that we are accessible so that we can get some new business
  • I or one of my customers deal exclusively with a segment that have a non-standard set of faculties that have accessibility implications and our offering needs to be precisely tailored for them

Consider the various cases above. While clearly not an exhaustive treatment of all possible cases, you can see 2 significant flavors:

  1. I need to convince a certain constituency that my digital asset is accessible
  2. I need to make my digital asset as accessible, usable and appropriate as possible to one or more specific class of users with non-standards faculties.

In both these cases, standards compliance is a requirement. For case 2 above, however, the asset owner would be ill-advised to stop at standards compliance and should consider additional steps to put forth the best possible offering – from accessibility, usability and design standpoints for the specific audience(s) in mind.

So here goes the stake in the ground:

We believe that standards compliance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for ensuring best possible levels of accessibility.

We do believe that current standards ensure a high degree of accessibility. However, we believe that there are additional steps that can and should be taken to allow a person with a non-standard set of faculties the best possible experience with a web site or application.

Ever wondered how a person with a visual impairment uses a computer? Surf the web? Read a book or an article? I know many people who shy away from asking these questions. The important thing is to realise that there’s no harm in asking these questions. The real harm is in not bothering to find the answers to these questions. A request to our visually impaired readers: please pass this article on to all your sighted friends. And dear sighted readers, walk with me through this simple simulation of the experience of a visually impaired person.

The most popular, specialized software program used by people with visual impairments to consume electronic content – documents, web pages and other computer programs is a type of computer software known as a screen reader. The screen reader has two major functions – Navigation and Text-to-Speech (TTS).

A screen reader aids in navigation by guiding the user in moving from one page to the other, from one paragraph to the other and so on. It aids in TTS by converting electronic text to sound – basically it reads out text. The biggest stumbling block for screen reader software are programs and content that is difficult for navigation.
 
A large majority of computer programs and electronic content that are used by the visually impaired, are created by sighted people – programmers, content writers, editors etc. If you happen to fall into this category of very powerful people, and if you are unfamiliar with screen readers, I would definitely encourage you to try this little experiment. Now, if you don’t, you might still want to do it – because it can open your eyes a little bit into an unfamiliar world. All you need is a computer, working eyes and an old newspaper.

Here you go:

  1. Turn on your computer
  2. Browse to Google news or your favorite online haunt OR open a large word document
  3. Now get an old newspaper – take one full sheet and open it up
  4. Make a rectangular incision 3 inches long and half inch wide at the center of the paper
  5. With both hands, hold this newspaper against and in front of your computer display, so that you can see the screen through the rectangular hole
  6. Now start reading through the hole. Move the paper to the right to continue reading
  7. Try to jump to sections that you are interested in by moving the paper around
  8. Read the whole page
  9. Rinse and repeat with familiar and unfamiliar pages
  10. That’s it.

Hope you enjoyed the experience :) .. Now we need some feedback from you:

  1. How easy was it to find something that you are looking to read?
  2. What would have made it easier to find what you were looking for?
  3. Is the experience different between familiar and unfamiliar pages?
  4. How would you change the design of your document/site/application after your experience of carrying out this experiment?
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