Meet Shankar Chandrashekar, a 28-year-old techie who was born with no eyesight and limited use of his arms.
Talk to him today and it is clear that he took his disability as a breeze gently pushing him towards his dreams. He works as an accessibility tester in a software firm in Noida, lives independently, pays taxes, and is also helping other visually impaired people find the kind of freedom he has found.
And for all this, he has two things to credit – technology and the internet.
“The internet is very helpful because the world is a very busy place today. We can’t always depend on other people,” he says smiling. “Suppose I have to go outside – instead of waiting for anyone else to help me, I can just use the internet to book a cab. If I want to have good food in a restaurant, I just download the map to that place and go by myself. Internet is useful for everyone, but in my opinion, visually challenged people can’t lead their lives without it. From learning new things to money transactions – I rely on the internet for 95% of the things I have to do.”
Now, having found how useful technology is, he wants to help others like him too. In December 2016, Shankar started a YouTube channel named Tech Accessibility Tutorials where he uploads videos explaining how visually impaired people can use different internet applications.
Prior to this, he had also started a WhatsApp group for a similar purpose.
“I started giving tax deposits in 2012 and from that time I had thought of creating a WhatsApp group just from the point of view of learning new things from different people at one place. So it was basically started just for me to learn. Later it grew into a platform where I shared my knowledge with others and others shared theirs with me,” he says.
With videos on subjects like ‘How does a visually impaired person read text that is in an image’, ‘WhatsApp tips and tricks for the blind’, ‘how to automate your device’, and more, his YouTube channel has over 700 subscribers today.
Explaining how the channel operates, Shankar says that whenever a new application comes up on Play Store, he first asks the app developers about whether they will pay him if he prepares a tutorial for visually challenged people. “We are not doing charity work here. We are spreading knowledge and we also need to be paid because we are spending time on this. If we get loyalty or remuneration, then it’s good. If not, then also it is not a problem,” he says.
Shankar then installs the application on his phone, explores it, and writes a tutorial in text format, which his friend Vaishnavi converts into a video tutorial. He also takes out time to respond to each and every query he get on the channel and the group.
As for living independently, Shankar has been used to it since he was a 3-year-old. Originally from Bellary, his parents enrolled him at Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind in Bengaluru when he was three and he studied there till class 10. This was because accessible education facilities were not easily available in his hometown at the time.
After class 10, Shankar could not find any hostel facilities in Bengaluru to stay and continue his education. So he returned to Bellary where he was enrolled into a college for his pre-university course.
For graduation, he again came back to Bangalore. On his father’s suggestion, he took up diploma in teaching visually impaired people, which he completed in two years and got a certificate from the Rehabilitation Council of India. He then went to Enable India and learned computers. However, on trying for a job in the teaching sector, he could not get one and decided to return to Bellary.
On his way, he met a person named Chiranjeevi who learned about his interest in computers and gave him a laptop. At the time, Shankar was also getting about Rs. 500 in the form of a Disability Pension from the government, which he used to get an internet connection for his home. There, he developed his computer skills on his own. He learned web programming like HTML, C++, Java scripting, etc. using online tutorials.
Shankar had also learned basic computers in school with the help of his teacher Maltesh. “My hands are L and J-shaped. And I cannot see too. Because of all this, Maltesh refused to teach me computers at first. But I persisted. I started learning when I was in class 5 and in class 7 I had learned MS DOS and WordStar,” he recounts.
In the future, Shankar wants to meet the Prime Minister of India and wants to get a job in the National Informatics Centre where he can work on making all state and central government websites accessible for visually impaired people.
Additionally, he is working on a website to provide training on programming skills to the blind.
A fighter with a never-give-up attitude, Shankar has a message for the government. He wants to convey that India needs to have facilities like many foreign countries, which provide laptops to visually impaired people from class 1 so that by time they are in class 5, they know how to scan their books and teach themselves.
“Visually challenged people should also be given jobs in a way that their efficiencies are utilised. For example, instead of giving them the work of clerks where all they are required to do is answer calls, they should be trained in technology and their skills should be put to use,” he adds.
Shankar concludes with a message for people with disabilities across the world. “Be positive and experience each and every second of your life. Don’t expect that someone will come and teach you or do something for you. You have to explore each and everything on your own; then only can you learn things better.”
To know more about Tech Accessibility Tutorials, visit here.