Visually impaired Delhi student Kartik Sawhney has repeatedly been denied permission to appear for the IIT-JEE in the past three years because of his disability. However, in March 2013, he was awarded a fully funded scholarship to pursue engineering at Stanford University in the US. On May 27, 2013, when 18-year-old Kartik Sawhney who scored 96 per cent in his Class XII CBSE examination, was denied permission to appear for the IIT-JEE three years in a row, just because he was blind, and there was no provision for blind students to take the exam.
Appearing from Delhi Public School, RK Puram, he scored 99 %in computer science (his favorite subject) and 95% each in English, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry; his total is 479 out of 500.
Talking about the challenges he faced when appearing for the CBSE exam Kartik said “Since no other blind student had pursued science in Class XI, I had to write several letters to the Controller of Examinations, CBSE, to make an exception. Along with my school principal Dr D R Saini, I must have written about 20 letters to the CBSE, after which they eventually considered my request.”In the absence of e books he used screen-reading software called JAWS, which converts text into audio. Till Class X he did not face so much difficulty because the textbooks were available in digital format. Only the classroom notes had to be keyed in separately.
“In Class XI, however, I had to seek help from my peers and family members, who would dictate the chapters from the textbook while I typed them into the computer. The syllabus for Class 11 and 12 was extensive, so I had to type about 100 to 200 pages every day before I could study them.” explained Kartik.Recalling some of the challenges, he says, “Studying with normal students wasn’t easy, and neither was choosing a stream of my choice.”Determination and perseverance are the key factors to his success — he simply would not take no for an answer.”A lot of people think that disabilities limit you from doing certain things. But I think success comes to those who believe in their strengths,” he states.
Sawhney, who comes from a middle class family — his father Ravinder Sawhney is a businessman and mother Indu Sawhney a homemaker — confesses that aiming high and making tough decisions at every stage was still easier than executing them. Prior to joining DPS, for two years he had undergone training at the National Association for the Blind, and was given special permission to use either a computer or a laptop to maintain notes.”But the transition from NAB to DPS wasn’t smooth. I continued to be dependent on digital material and since each session would not last beyond 45 minutes, I had to further sharpen my concentration so that I could take maximum notes. Both my teachers and friends at school were helpful. The teachers were kind enough to repeat themselves and also encouraged me to meet them after class if I had any doubts, but they could only do so much. I had to do the learning on my own, which was frustrating at times, especially because I would not understand simple descriptions.” adds Kartik.
During the examinations he was provided with a soft copy of the question paper, which he would install on my personal computer. The screen reading software would read out the questions. While others attempted them on paper, he had to type the responses on a computer. He was given the same time as the others, and he he had to take a printout and give it to the concerned faculty member for evaluation.
Surprisingly there was no provision for people like him to appear for the JEE, which is a highly competitive test. So between 2010 and 2012, he wrote several letters to the IITs in Madras, Kanpur and Delhi, respectively. Each time, they not only turned down his request, but were also rude to him. Although the IITs have a three per cent reservation for the physically handicapped; it is restricted to students with poor or low vision. Since he is totally blind he was not qualified to take the JEE.
Excited about going to Stanford for engineering Kartik says “Internationally, Stanford is the best place to pursue engineering. Ever since I understood computers, I have been passionate about computer science engineering. I have already designed this software called ‘STEM made easy’, which has two different applications and aims to help blind students like me study subjects like Mathematics and Science easily. With the benefit of a Stanford education, I think it’s not only possible to shape up my computing skills, but also try and develop applications that will improve the condition of the visually impaired back in India.”
Kartik draws inspiration from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, whom he met in 2005.He still remembers his words “son it is better to have vision and no eyesight” When asked to give a message he said “do not judge people based on what they lack; instead, focus on what they are capable of and if possible, help them get closer to their goals.”