Popular NVDA community contributor, Bhavya Shah, joins us for part 2 of a 3 part interview. If you missed part 1, you can find it here: Bhavya Shah: From India to the USA, part 1. In this second part, Bhavya shares some of the technicalities of how he uses NVDA in his university work, and in his research assistantship. (Video with transcript below):
[Quentin]: Bhavya Shah, once again thank you for joining us for this, the second installment of our three part interview series.
[Bhavya]: Thank you so much for having me, Quentin. It’s a pleasure to be here.
[Quentin]: You are most welcome! Now, in Part 1, you talked about your schooling and how you came to use NVDA. To start this time, can you please share with us a little bit more about your academic interests currently and how NVDA plays a role in that?
[Bhavya]: I am, as I mentioned earlier, presently studying mathematics and computer science. I have not declared my major, but I think major is just a name for the combination of classes that you take. My interests continue to revolve around mathematics and algorithmic analysis and what not. I’m taking a class in probability and topology this summer quarter, and have been doing so in related fields. That has required me to engage with MathML content, with IDE’s (Integrated Development Environments), with different technologies and tools to either create code or review it and edit it, or work with published mathematical and scientific content. In all of these areas, NVDA has proved generally good in that it has that compatibility with math player which allows you to interact with mathematical content on a granular level as well as with a birds eye view. It also works with a variety of programming tools; I am much more low tech in that I just make use of PowerShell and Notepad++ and occasionally VS Code, and NVDA does offer great performance with those.
I also have been pursuing several research assistantships. One was in the area of global development, in which I was required to use Microsoft Excel to fill out, make more rich, and clean up a dataset of about 40,000 individuals and their complaints, and NVDA again proved quite capable to assist me in working with features like filtering in Excel, to allow me to look at precisely that data which I wanted to manipulate at any given point in time. It also worked very well with AutoHotKey and I think this is an application that I would like to share in slightly more detail. Web scraping is the ability to collect data from the internet and there are many technical, programmatic, traditional methods to doing it. However, it doesn’t work always, and it was a Dartmouth quantitative social science professor who had explicitly told me that he had exhausted all means of web scraping and therefore concluded that the data that we required about nearly 150,000 courses across several American institutions needed manual effort and could not be automated, and I was hired to do that manual effort. But it struck me as perhaps potentially possible to combine AutoHotKey, a scripting language, and the keyboard shortcuts of NVDA to create a sequence of keypresses that was slightly hacky, slightly patchy and not very straightforward, but it worked: going to the end of a document and then going backward and clicking a bunch of links and moving tabs, and in effect, automating a process that was expected to take over 11 weeks and completing it in under 3 weeks. And that, I think was a pure function of my professor’s encouragement to explore innovative workarounds, but also NVDA’s extensibility to work with different scripting languages to generate rather novel applications.
[Quentin]: Wow, a saving of 8 weeks out of 11, that is impressive. Where have you gone from there?
[Bhavya]: I am currently working on a research project with the political psychology research group at Stanford, in which I will be working with statistical analysis packages such as R, Stata, and / or SPSS, in which again, I hope to employ NVDA to allow me to perform those data analysis on the data that we have gathered for several experiments. In all of these cases, both technical fields themselves, but also technical applications in non technical fields such as humanities and social sciences, I have found NVDA to be extremely dependable, and I have found success in using it. Sometimes it works out of the box. Sometimes I need to file a GitHub ticket. Sometimes I need to look for NVDA add-ons to make my life easier. But at the end of the day, it always seems to work out when NVDA is my screenreader of choice.
[Quentin]: Well done and it sounds like the sky is certainly the limit for you there. Where else do you apply NVDA outside of academic use, or what are your interests outside of academia?
[Bhavya]: I am all over the place as an individual, and that’s the defining trait of Bhavya Shah. I have been extensively involved in speech and debate. I was fortunate to be a winner of the world championship in 2019, and Individually ranked the sixth best speaker in the world (at the World Schools debating championships in Bangkok 2019) And that is somewhat rare for a blind participant because that has not happened in the past. But that feat, again, was largely enabled by my ability to use my laptop in that limited preparation one hour just before the debate began. We had our motion, we did not have access to the Internet, no talking to coaches – just five teammates trying to discuss a lot of matter, prepare an entire case, and come up with pre-emptions to what the other side may argue. And you need efficiency, speed, and reliability in using your computer in doing that, because sighted counterparts will just scribble all that they need to with a bunch of pens with different colours on several palm cards and pieces of paper and be certain that what they are writing down is what they will continue to be able to access in that precise format. However, as a blind user trying to simulate this on a computer, I need to be mindful of how responsive NVDA is in WordPad as opposed to Microsoft Word. I need to understand how practically beneficial it is for me to make use of the headings and Microsoft Word browse mode functionality to be able to jump through different sections of the content that I have typed down. And all of those are just multiple considerations that I need to keep in mind while I am preparing in that one hour for that debate, but also once I am in the round, and am listening to my teammates speak and taking notes of their speech, listening to the other team speak and taking notes of their speech in order to prepare responses to them, and also simultaneously listening to my teammates in case they whisper something that I should indicate. All of this while I simultaneously listen to NVDA – and I am a fan of eSpeak-NG, controversial views but well – and using that on 40% speech rate with Rate Boost enabled so that is nearly 600-700 words per minute. And that combination and coalescence, it can only work out if you trust the assistive technology that you are using to not glitch, to work snappily. And the fact that it did allowed me I think in large part to win that world championship in Thailand. I have also used NVDA to prepare for my quizzing endeavours. I remember I was in China – this was perhaps in 2016 – for the global IT challenge for youth with disabilities. And all visually impaired participants were given computers with another screenreader preinstalled and there was no alternative given. But I knew that I was substantially more comfortable with NVDA, and I would be able to perform to the best of my abilities only if I were permitted to use the screen reader of my choice. I remember I had to overcome several language barriers to communicate my needs to the Korean organisers and the Chinese facilitators in Yangzhou at GITC back then. Fortunately my request was understood and granted, and not only was I able to secure a gold, silver, and a bronze medal in three events at that event, but I think what I’m much prouder of is the fact that anotherMongolian participant, thanks to my advocacy – to be allowed to useNVDA as a screenreader as opposed to an alternative – That Mongolian participant was therefore also able to employ NVDA because that was their screen reader of choice. So across all of my extracurricular pursuits, even in my personal life, just accessing entertainment content and emails and otherwise, I have found NVDA to be excellent.
[Quentin]: Congratulations Bhavya, that is all very impressive, and I know that you will continue to excel in your debating, college and anything else that you put your hand to. Thank you once again for joining us, this has been part 2 of our 3 part interview series with Bhavya Shah.