I had issues with my eyesight from a very young age. It all started with night blindness when I was eight years old. For atleast six years, nobody was able to figure out the reason behind my problem until I turned 14. It was then when I was diagnosed with 'Retinitis Pigmentosa' that, eventually, led to the visual impairment that I suffer from today.
Initially, the impediment was the root cause of my problems in school. Back then, many teachers refused to believe that I was going blind and thought it was nothing but an excuse to run away from my studies. Not everyone understood my problem at that time. I could not even write a single digit because of this. However, as the years went by, many identified the problem and provided me with low vision aides such as a magnifying glass that helped me a lot.
I excelled in school after which I decided to pursue Commerce in college. It became a little hard for me to cope with subjects such as accounts etc. There, I made a close-knit group of friends that helped me through this period. They read out everything for me from the textbooks that I used to memorise for the exams.
No Job Because Of My Disability
When I was a child, I found myself drawn towards sci-fi content and cartoons. We all know that childhood dreams do not always materialise into something lucrative in the future. It was when I was 19 years old that I realised my passion to work in the tech space. I was exposed to web designing and sold them in 2006. I used the magnifying tool on Windows to help me navigate through a computer or a laptop. I spent a lot of time learning new things and improving my craft further.
Towards the end of my college years, the job placement time was extremely difficult. I cracked several interviews but I was not hired because of my disability. The HR departments of various companies always delayed their answers, even when I was open about my impairment to them. A lot of them did not understand what I was going through, nor were they 'accessible' enough to accommodate an employee with a disability.
In 2007, I went to Bengaluru to train at 'Enable India.' where they taught me how to use a screen-reader and introduced me to other low vision tools. It was an eye-opening experience as I met several others who were like me as well. It was in 2009 when I got placed in IBM. I started working as a Technical Specialist.
Foray Into Accessibility
During that time, many tech companies in India only had the idea of 'accessibility' in paper but did not execute. They did not have a specific position for a 'Web Accessibility Specialist.' My colleague in the company, Punit, who acquainted me with the same in 2011. Thanks to my web-designing knowledge, I had an idea about how to make the website more accessible for the disabled community.
The meeting took place one Friday evening and I was hired the very next day on Saturday! Over the years, I got the opportunity to build the team and work with them closely. We got in more web developers as well as people within the company to work with this vertical. I worked as IBM's Web Accessibility Specialist till 2014. When I joined the team, I was the only blind person. By the time I parted ways, there were 3-4 people suffering with the same in the team. Now, a lot of them have excelled further in life. Some even have companies catering to accessibility.
Later, I worked with a company called 'DQ Software'. Now, I am the Director of Accessibility for an Israeli company called 'UserWay.'
A Sense Of Freedom And Pride
Moving away from my family to Bengaluru was a big step for me. I felt a sense of freedom as I managed a house on my own. Before coming to the city, I used to blog a lot. After I moved here, I got to meet many other fellow bloggers and we shared ideas with each other. Not just that, I even ran a few marathons. From the Hyderabad Half-Marathon in 2013 to a 10 km Auroville Marathon in Pondicherry, the adrenaline rush I got after doing this made me realise that I will never stop doing this.
However, I had no idea that my journey is a source of inspiration to many. When I lived in Bengaluru, I used to post a lot on Facebook as well as regularly updated my blog. One day, I got a call from a blind man who said that he found 'hope' when he got to know about me. I felt extremely powerful after hearing that as I had no clue how my simple blogging could make someone feel this hopeful and optimistic about their life.
Nowadays, I take full joy in living in the moment. I feel we have forgotten how to live our life in the best way possible. It is not easy to get through a disability or a health challenge as one needs to have a strong desire to live. I have that desire to live and strong willpower that has enabled me to drive forward in my life.
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