Here's proof that blindness is no barrier to app-making

Here's proof that blindness is no barrier to app-making

 Can blind people write programming codes?

The answer would be a firm yes as you watch them clustered around tables, putting their heads down and discussing what kind of apps to create in a 24-hour period at the hackathon held at the International Institute for Information Technology-Bangalore on Saturday.

The sighted people are not present to help them, but to partner with them in the effort.

Organised by I-Stem, a self-advocacy group with 10 blind students pursuing BTech in IITs, IIITs and NITs, the hackathon is to demonstrate the ability of the blind to work in an inclusive team.

"Part of our activity is to sensitise teachers, students and special instructors on the possibility of the blind students learning science and math at school," said Kartik Sawhney, a visually challenged MS Computer Science graduate from Stanford University, who created I-Stem with fellow blind persons pursuing technology programmes.

The 10 work with the zeal of an evangelist in persuading teachers, special educators and even students to make science, engineering and math learning accessible to the blind.

"Sometimes talk is cheap and we need to demonstrate the difference science/engineering education can make to a blind person by doing something as hands-on as this," Sawhney, who would take up a job with Microsoft soon, added.

In total, there are 12 groups of blind and sighted individuals building various apps.

The ideas for these apps have come from the blind participants. "The apps should be accessible for all kinds of disability and they exactly know how to make them work," said Saumya Paigwar, a first-year M Tech student with IIITB, who is part of the team that set about creating a web-based twitter trend finder.

Joining I-Stem in organising the two-day hackathon are IIITB's E-Health Research Centre, not-for-profit organisations Vision Aid, Vision Empower and Mumbai-based Xavier's Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged.

Co-founder of Vision Empower with research scholar Supriya Dey, Vidhya Y, the first ever blind student to complete MSc in Digital Society at IIITB, said Sawhney and his group reached out to her with the hackathon idea.

"Since Vision Empower is also involved in facilitating science education at schools, we thought this would be the kind of event that would reflect our objectives and provide practical examples of how science education can transform the blind," Supriya said.

On Sunday, a group of judges had picked the team made of Rishabh Jain, Rutwik Vempati, Aman Datta, Rama Krishna and Mayank Senani for creating an app that would identify objects around a blind person. Two other teams also made it to the podium.

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