Kartik Sawhney’s Childhood
Just after birth, Kartik Sawhney, of Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi, was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, a condition which left him permanently blind. But Sawhney was not one to take this misfortune lying down and decided to fight a battle against it. He might not have known then that he would have to fight several tough battles in the years ahead.
From an early age, he got trained by the National Association of the Blind, which played a big role in boosting his confidence. Sawhney attended the Delhi Public School in East Kailash. He knew that to be able to sit for exams, he would need to work around his visual impairment. He started learning how to use a computer with access technology under the guidance he received from Prashant Ranjan Varma, his teacher. He soon learnt how to use a computer for all academic purposes and this allowed him to take exams when he was in Class 2.
After class 8, when the time came to choose his subjects, he found it difficult to convince the authorities to let him study science. Such students normally chose humanity because of the following reasons. He would, for example, find it difficult to sit for exams or do lab assignments, he was told. Like any other kid who cannot see, nobody thought that he could have a career in science. But Sawhney had a passion for science and wanted to pursue it. He proved that he could study science using several notation and conventions he had designed himself. Other strategies that he used and software programs helped him to deal with graphs and diagrams which was essential to the study of science. It took him several letters, meetings and demonstration of his abilities to convince the officials that he was capable of studying science. Finally they allowed him seeing his ingenuity and determination.
Getting permission to study science was just one hurdle crossed. There were no available books that he could study and Sawhney sat up hours in the night typing the text from his books as his mother dictated, so that he could read them on a screen reader that reads out text aloud. He got a lot of support from his school and his teachers. Sawhney not only managed to appear for exams but also got very good grades at school. He scored 96 per cent in his class 12 CBSE exams, a feat that perhaps nobody with vision impairment has achieved before him. But even now he had not reached the end of his struggle.
Kartik Sawhney’s Journey to Fulfill his Dreams
With good grades, Sawhney wanted to sit for the IIT-JEE examinations as it would help him pursue his dreams. But for 3 years in a row he was not allowed to sit for the exams as the guidelines did not allow him. A scribe during the exams could not be allowed for science subjects, he was said, as that would allow him to cheat. Sawhney said he would pay for an invigilator or an IIT professor to be his scribe, but he was not even allowed that.
In 2013, Sawhney made it to study Engineering in Computer Science at the prestigious Stanford University in the United States with a full scholarship. Not only was it one of the best places in the world to pursue his passion, it also had a support system for visually challenged students, something the Indian Institutes of Technologies do not have.
Sawhney knows the difficulties that he has faced and anyone in his place is likely to face. One of the biggest difficulties for visually impaired kids is the accessibility of reading material. Sawhney believes that it is not just a job of the government and that anyone can make a difference. He intends to do his bit as well.
It took a boy with a lot of talent and dedication to open the eyes of the education system in India which has still not woken up to the difficulties faced by those who do not have the gift of vision. His example will hopefully be something all of will learn a lesson and draw inspiration from.