Blind Entrepreneur Helps Thousands of Visually Impaired Kids Build a Future In STEM


Inspired by her own struggles, visually impaired Vidhya Y, launched Vision Empower, which helps visually impaired students pursue science math-related subjects.

Usually, visually impaired children are not promoted to study science or mathematics. They are encouraged to pursue humanities and arts subjects because of the very visual nature of science and mathematics. But visually impaired Vidhya Y had always wanted to pursue science. Her passion for the subject made her take the unusual path of studying science and later computer science for her college degree.

Vidhya Y came from Thirumagondanahalli, a village located on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Coming from a village made it more difficult for Vidhya to pursue her dream of opting for science for higher studies. She was first studying in a school for visually impaired students that is in Bengaluru. And later, after class 7 she joined a regular school to pursue science subjects further. But things were not easy. She sat in classes not being able to see what was being written or drawn on the board. She remembers coming home and crying. Her parents then appointed a private tutor for her and her grades improved after that. She passed class 10th with exceptional marks and had gained a lot of press coverage back then.

After finishing her schooling, she joined a PUC, where she took commerce with mathematics. Later, she opted for Computer Science for her graduation. But studying computer science was one of the toughest periods in Vidhya’s life. Computer Science involved a lot of mathematics, programming, diagrams, and lab work. Thankfully she got help from some volunteers from Canada who took classes over Zoom.

Vidhya then enrolled for her post-graduation in Digital Society Programming at the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore and passed out in 2017 with a gold medal. But then started the struggle. She had done an internship at Microsoft when she was in college, but that was all. Now no company was willing to hire her because of her disability.

This is when Vidhya decided to do something of her own. She remembered the struggles she went through to study science subjects. So she wanted to help visually impaired children to pursue science and learn it without any difficulties. According to Vidhya, visually impaired students are not encouraged to study science because there is no well-designed curriculum set for visually impaired students to learn the subjects efficiently.

So in 2017, Vidhya launched Vision Empower with Amit Prakash, her professor at IIIT, and Supriya Dey, a research student at the institute. Vision Empower is a non-profit organisation that offers an accessible learning management platform to promote experiential learning of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Subjects), computational thinking, and digital literacy, and also includes early childhood programmes.

“To promote STEM learning, we started by giving out textbooks to visually impaired children with diagrams they could understand by touching and feeling. The theory is in braille and the diagrams are in 2D,” says Vidhya, adding that they started with providing these materials to students from class 4 to class 6, but have now expanded to include kids from class 1 to class 10.

Another initiative is a teacher training programme to learn new concepts and innovative tools. For the digital literacy programme, they have developed their own tools to teach the kids using different play-based methods. They have kids from across the country and ever since the pandemic started they have started teaching online.

The technology arm of Vision Empower — Vembi Technologies — has developed a learning management system named ‘Subodha’, where all study material is made accessible to teachers and children with visual impairments. Vidhya adds, “We have also designed an affordable braille book reader for children called ‘Hexus-Antara’.

Vision Empower is currently working with over 80 schools across six states. They have directly partnered with the governments of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Tripura, Delhi and Gujarat. This year, there have been around 1,800 direct and indirect beneficiaries with the help of hundreds of volunteers. The organisation is mostly funded by corporations like Microsoft, Wipro, Elektrobit India, Cognizant etc, as well as individual sponsors.

Credits: The Better India

Read the full story here.

-Staff Reporter 

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