Popular NVDA community contributor, Bhavya Shah, is a rising sophomore at Stanford University, California, USA. Before that, however, he grew up halfway around the world, in Mumbai, India. Today we talk with Bhavya, about his journeys, both physical, and with NVDA (Video with transcript below):
Quentin: Bhavya Shah, thank you for joining us.
Bhavya: Thank you so much for having me, Quentin. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Quentin: You’re most welcome. Some people will be familiar with you from email lists, GitHub, NVDACon. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Bhavya: I am Bhavya Shah. I am 19. I am a rising sophomore at Stanford University and my primary academic interests are in discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science. I am also interested in the fields of education and disability studies. I have been involved in several research assistantships in the social sciences over the past year. And I have been a long time user, enthusiast, and proponent of the NVDA screen reader and have been grateful to be a member of the community.
Quentin: That’s already an impressive academic career. When did you begin using NVDA?
Bhavya: This started back in 2012 I believe, when I was in the 6th grade. I had lost all of my eyesight, and I could no longer rely on my shabby handwriting with the virtually little to no vision that I had remaining, and I needed to switch to an alternative modality of learning. Computers and assistive technologies were the natural alternative for me, and I did receive rehabilitation training in another screen reading program. However, given its expense, I was not in a position to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars, which translate to a much heftier amount in Indian Rupees – I come from India – and therefore I was recommended NVDA. Back in the day NVDA was not as well known, highly reputed, and did not have as extensive a community as it does now. Therefore, I was almost alone in the wild just having heard this name of this apparently free and open source screen reader, expected as a 13-year-old kid to learn it all by myself. I did that. I did initially struggle with eSpeak because I was used to ETI Eloquence, but I got over that. I did not know the differences in the keyboard commands, but I read the user guide, I asked question after question on the NVDA users international forum email list, and I got the hang of that. I self-taught myself; I asked folks who were experts to help me out when I could not figure it out myself. But I primarily persisted and I think my interest in the screen reader continued to grow as it impressed upon me how community driven this screen reading project was by the nature of it being open source.
And, I remember this was in the academic year right after the summer break in my sixth grade, when I had taken my 11 inch HP Minibook to my school for the very first time with NVDA on it. On the first day, in our very first class, we were required to enter our timetable for the year in terms of our classes and our schedules, on Microsoft Excel. And I had struggled, I could not figure it out, and that was slightly disheartening. But I took some time at the end of that day back at home, practised Microsoft Excel which was still a new and unfamiliar program to me, and leveraged NVDA to input all of my classes in that. It was only upward and onward from there on. I used NVDA in Microsoft Word to enter all of my answers to our English Literature periods; I used NVDA to access Google and Wikipedia to collect information for various school assignments; I used NVDA to complete my math and science coursework; And in all of these variety of areas, NVDA continued to amaze me with its versatility and flexibility and its ability to give me access if used right and to its fullest. And it has been continuing to do so ever since.
Quentin: Very Impressive, well done on teaching yourself all of that Bhavya. Nowadays, we are pleased to be able to offer training material for users at NVAccess.org, but one of our greatest assets is that vibrant community you mentioned, of users who teach each other, work with each other, share ideas and tips. And you’ve been a big part of that, so thank you! Stepping back a little, I wonder, can you tell me, how was schooling in India and how did you decide to move to America?
Bhavya: Schooling in India for a blind student, is in general, rocky, but I would also say rewarding, because the kinds of creative problem solving and self-advocacy skills that I learnt through my life experience is not something that can just be taught. It was a little more tricky in my last two years of high school, because none of my physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science textbooks were available in an accessible electronic format to me. So what I had to do was type down manually the essentials of all of the thousands of pages of content across my physics, chemistry and mathematics material for my last two years of high school. So, I would be spending every other evening with either my mother or a teacher or a friend coming over to dictate, say, the practice problems at the end of a chapter or some key pointers from the chapters’ material and such. But my passion for STEM wasn’t dying down any time soon, so even at the undergraduate level, I would want to study these subjects. But, the amount of time and effort that I would need to continue to redirect to just granting me access to studying if I were to live and study in India, was somewhat unreasonable. And that is when I was prompted to look into foreign universities, study abroad programs. And I had heard of Stanford university before. I was lucky enough to meet someone I call a role model and look up to immensely who was blind from India and had attended Stanford in the past. And I looked at other options, I put together my application, wrote my essays, got them reviewed by a bunch of wonderful friends that I’m lucky to have through the debate community and well, on December 6th, I received my acceptance letter. That’s why I’m here.
Quentin: Bhavya congratulations on being accepted to Stanford, we know you will continue to excel in your studies!
That was part 1 of our 3 part interview series with Bhavya Shah. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 soon. Thank you.