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India
08 Nov 2017

Meet Kartik Sawhney: A visually-impaired Indian who's making things happen

In a world lost in selfies and procrastination, it's rare to come across stories of youths that inspire action towards a more just, inclusive tomorrow. Kartik Sawhney's is one such story.

Though his life has been a series of achievements, Kartik has one physical disability, he was born blind.

But that never stopped him from achieving feats that most youngsters only read about.

In context

From India to Stanford: Visually-impaired Kartik Sawhney's story

Achievements

Kartik is studying artificial intelligence at Stanford University

Currently a postgraduate student at Stanford University with a major in artificial intelligence, Kartik is the co-founder of nextbillion.org, a portal that mentors disabled students interested in taking up a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

He has been felicitated multiple times, most notably the Queen's Young Leaders Award by British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, and Google Lime Scholarship.

Challenges

Kartik is India's first blind CBSE student to study science

However, Kartik has never had it easy. When he was in school, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) didn't allow blind students to pursue science after Class 10.

Unfazed, he challenged the CBSE, and after nine months of appeals, campaigns and meetings with stakeholders, he managed to secure permission for all blind students across India to take science at the higher secondary level.

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Way out

None of the IITs agreed to take him

Stanford University was not Kartik's first thought post school. He had been preparing for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) but despite his merit and earnestness, they didn't agree to enroll him.

Though he suffered stigma and discrimination, he got them to provide some accommodations. But by then he knew it would be a struggle to study in India. He therefore went to Stanford.

Change

Abled with support, Kartik found wings to fly at Stanford

At Stanford, Kartik wasn't treated differently anymore. There he got in abundance what he seldom found in India - support.

Though the American university is disabled friendly, its people, he says are even friendlier. "They think of me as a student with varied interests who happens to have a disability, rather than a disabled student. That is what makes all the difference," says Kartik.

Reaching out

'Technology is a great leveler. It can help empower people'

Technology, Kartik feels, is a great leveler and can transform lives. He knows that unlike others, he has been fortunate. Since he started nextbillion.org, he is on a mission to break barriers around disability and mentor those less resourceful than him.

More than a physical deformity, handicap is a state of mind. There can be no better example to illustrate this than Kartik Sawhney.

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