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Archive for the ‘Breaking Stereotypes’ Category

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.

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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.

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One of our member, Krissy, sent this to us. A truly amazing piece by Harold Krents.
Harold Krents, a graduate of Harvard Law School, practiced law in Washington, D.C. Blind from birth, he was a strong advocate for the rights of the handicapped. He speaks about the everyday prejudices faced by a blind person.

Darkness at Noon
By Harold Krents

Blind from birth, I have never had the opportunity to see myself and have been completely dependent on the image I create in the eye of the observer. To date it has not been narcissistic. There are those who assume that since I can’t see, I obviously also cannot hear. Very often people will converse with me at the top of their lungs, enunciating each word very carefully. Conversely, people will also often whisper, assuming that since my eyes don’t work, my ears don’t either.

For example, when I go to the airport and ask the ticket agent for assistance to the plane, he or she will invariably pick up the phone, call a ground hostess, and whisper: “Hi, Jane, we’ve got a 76 here.” I have concluded that the word blind is not used, for one of two reasons: Either they fear that if the dread word is spoken, the ticket agent’s retina will immediately detach, or they are reluctant to inform me of my condition, of which I may not have been previously aware. On the other hand, others know that of course I can hear, but believe that I can’t talk. Often, therefore, when my wife and I go out to dinner, a waiter or waitress will ask Kit if “he would like a drink” to which I respond that “indeed he would.” This point was graphically driven home to me while we were in England. I had been given a year’s leave of absence from my Washington law firm to study for a diploma in law at Oxford University. During the year I became ill and was hospitalized. Immediately after admission, I was wheeled down to the X-ray room. Just at the door sat an elderly woman—elderly I would judge from the sound of her voice. “What is his name?” the woman asked the orderly who had been wheeling me. “What’s your name?” the orderly repeated to me. “Harold Krents,” I replied. “Harold Krents,” he repeated. “When was he born?” “When were you born?” “November 5, 1944,” I responded. “November 5, 1944,” the orderly intoned. This procedure continued for approximately five minutes, at which point even my saint like disposition deserted me. “Look,” I finally blurted out, “this is absolutely ridiculous. Okay, granted I can’t see, but it’s got to have become pretty clear to both of you that I don’t need an interpreter.” “He says he doesn’t need an interpreter,” the orderly reported to the woman.

The toughest misconception of all is the view that because I can’t see, I can’t work. I was turned down by over forty law firms because of my blindness, even though my qualifications included a cum laude3 degree from Harvard College and a good ranking in my Harvard Law School class. The attempt to find employment, the continuous frustration of being told that it was impossible for a blind person to practice law, the rejection letters, based not on my lack of ability but rather on my disability, will always remain one of the most disillusioning experiences of my life. Fortunately, this view of limitation and exclusion is beginning to change. On April 16, [1978] the Department of Labour issued regulations that mandate equal-employment opportunities for the handicapped.

By and large, the business community’s response to offering employment to the disabled has been enthusiastic. I therefore look forward to the day, with the expectation that it is certain to come, when employers will view their handicapped workers as a little child did me years ago when my family still lived in Scarsdale. I was playing basketball with my father in our back yard according to procedures we had developed. My father would stand beneath the hoop, shout, and I would shoot over his head at the basket attached to our garage. Our next-door neighbour, aged five, wandered over into our yard with a playmate. “He’s blind,” our neighbour whispered to her friend in a voice that could be heard distinctly by Dad and me. Dad shot and missed; I did the same. Dad hit the rim; I missed entirely; Dad shot and missed the garage entirely. “Which one is blind?” whispered back the little friend.

I would hope that in the near future, when a plant manager is touring the factory with the foreman and comes upon a handicapped and a non-handicapped person working together, his comment after watching them work will be, “Which one is disabled?”

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We are at the last leg of the Right To Read campaign. The Indian government has proposed certain amendments to the Indian Copyright Act, which will have a far reaching and severely negative impact on the lives of millions of Indians who are visually impaired, dyslexic, have cerebral palsy, etc. This amendment is scheduled to be introduced in Parliament during the upcoming budget session. The National Access Alliance has launched a movement to oppose the upcoming amendment and this has received support from several leading politicians in India.

Act Now! You could help bring about a transformational change to the lives of about 70 million people in India and enable people to exercise their Right to Education and Right to Read.

With your help, we’ll harness the power of the internet to get the message to people all over the world. You can help us in many simple ways. Here are a few things you can do –

Sign the Declaration

A simple act of supporting the campaign online can make a huge difference to the cause. We intend to showcase the support the campaign receives to the concerned authorities so that a change in the copyright law can be brought about. Visit Right To Read and sign the declaration!

Connect us with more MPs (Members of Parliament)

If you know an MP, you can brief them on the issues so that the amendment can be meaningfully discussed in Parliament. All you need to do is forward this note to them, Click Here for the note.

Contact the press

If you know anyone in the press, get them to cover the issues and raise public awareness. Just send this press release attached here.

Send an email to Shri Rahul Gandhi

Communicate to Shri Rahul Gandhi your support for the change in the amendment! Just send the following email to iycnsui@gmail.com and other politicians you know.

A small act done by you can go a long way in helping the visually impaired in India!

If you would like to know more about the amendment to the copyright law and the background of this campaign, click here!

Thank you for your support!

Together, there are no barriers!

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Support Donna Jodhan, for a better Canada

Our friends in Canada are fighting for better online accessibility in Canada. Donna Jodhan and her friends are calling upon the Government of Canada to ensure that all information and services offered through Federal Government websites be made to comply with WCAG 2.0 guidelines by December 31, 2010.  Please copy and paste the <links> below into your internet browser.
Take action today by signing our online petition at:
<http://www.PetitionOnline.com/GCWAP/petition.html>

You can read more about our campaign and join us on Facebook at:
<http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=wall&gid=359483366688>

You can also send your support by email to:
<blind.equality@gmail.com>

Please share this with your friends, colleagues, and supporters of
e-accessibility.  Accessible websites mean stronger communities and
healthier economies!

_______________

Quick Facts:

+ Over 800,000 Canadians have seeing limitations that require accommodations.
+ If a website is not accessible, then to a blind person, it does not exist.
+ Government of Canada websites fail simple accessibility compliance tests.
+ Offenders include many major Federal departments, including Canada’s
largest employer, the Public Service Commission

Help us Support  in her Charter challenge against the
Attorney General of Canada, scheduled for May 19-21, 2010!

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If you are reading this, it probably means that you have crossed the digital divide and are independent enough to take in the sea of content, that we call the internet. But in Madagascar, out of 600,000 persons with visual impairment, less than 10 have access to computers!

Three young social entrepreneurs have decided to bring about change! Holiniaina, Martin and Karin are just like you and me… the only difference is that they acted! They created The Madagascar Education and Resource Centre for the visually Impaired (MERCI) with the vision to offer support and services for visually impaired people in and around Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.

MERCI needs your help!

MERCI has decided to maximize the power of collaboration by using the Inclusive Ideas platform. Here’s how you can help.

  1. The team at MERCI has designed a computer training curriculum, but before finalising it, they wanted everybody’s views is to ensure that students of MERCI get access to the best possible curriculum. Click here to review MERCI’s computer training curriculum. Moreover, if you already have some material which can be used for developing this curriculum, then feel free to share it.
  2. To achieve their vision, they need funds to run MERCI. You may not be able to help 600,000 people overnight… but what you can do, in your own small way, is contribute to this cause, and pass the word on to people in your network. If you are interested in funding their venture or helping them in any other way, then do write to us on contact at inclusiveplanet dot com

Join hands with Holiniaina, Martin, Karin & Inclusive Planet to give this gift to the visually impaired people of Madagascar! Armed with the knowledge of computers, the opportunities are innumerable. They can start a business, write stories, create music, join groups, campaign for causes, try online dating, make friends around the world and be on Inclusive Planet. 🙂  A gift that they can use throughout their lives… a gift that will enrich their life!

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On the Front Foot, is the name of George Abraham’s blog. George Abraham or Georgebhai as he is popularly is one of most well known visually impaired persons in India. A trail blazer in the true sense, George set up the Eyeway Project to “Inform, Inspire and Include” millions of visually impaired in the country. An Ashoka fellow, a brilliant debater,  a career in advertising, an athlete with a passion for cricket, George has donned multiple hats.

I  met George at Techshare, and we had a great chat where he shared his experiences in advertising and his passion for cricket.  A visit to Dehradun’s National Institute for the Visually Handicapped led George to experience the blind playing cricket.  He realized that cricket would instill confidence amongst the blind, and also enable society to see a non-stereotypical image of blind people which is positive and action oriented.

In March 1990 Abraham wrote to noted cricketer Sunil Gavaskar informing of his plan to hold the first national cricket tournament for the blind. Gavaskar responded immediately saying that he would help in anyway he could. By December 1990, George launched the first cricket tournament for the blind,  which then became an annual event. And in 1998, under his leadership, the inaugural Blind Cricket World Cup was held in New Delhi!

I was just amazed about his passion and enthusiasm for the game. Our conversation then moved to IPL 3, and I told him about the tell all audio book on cricket, which is due to hit Inclusive Planet during IPL. George will be helping us spread the word about the book to blind cricketing fraternity across the world. To make the IPL even merrier for the planeteers, George had an idea, he volunteered to take time out from his busy schedule and write a guest column about the IPL matches.  Now thats a double treat this IPL season!

You can catch George’s reviews of the IPL matches on the channel ” On the Front Foot” on Inclusive Planet.  You can also read them on his blog http://georgebhai.blogspot.com

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