Bhavya Shah, from India to the USA (Part 3)

Welcome back for this last part of our series of conversations with Bhavya Shah. If you missed the first two episodes, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Note, however, that each part does stand alone, so you can watch them out of order.

This time around, Bhavya shares some of the ways he has participated in the NVDA community. Bhavya’s contributions not only helped NVDA users, but were also acknowledged in his university offers. As usual, the transcript of the conversation is listed in full below the video:

[Quentin]: Bhavya Shah, welcome back for the third part of our interview series. Now, you’ve been a prolific advocate for NVDA and for accessibility in general. Can you please tell us a little bit more about the ways in which you came to contribute to NVDA itself?

[Bhavya]: The inspiration for my involvement and the desire to contribute and give back stemmed I think largely from what I’d gained and the multiplicity of ways in which I had personally benefitted. I think gaining something inspires you to give back and that’s precisely what the NVDA community was an example of in my life.

I know that in India, at least until several years ago, people did not have the means to purchase commercial assistive technologies. Therefore, one of two things used to happen: Either a) they were locked out of the possibilities that assistive technologies opened due to financial constraints, or b) they resorted to something unethical and illegal in the form of software piracy. I knew however that there was a way to do things the right way because an open source screenreading option did exist, and that was NVDA for me.

I tried to propagate it and increase awareness about it and just support people who were exploring it in all the little ways that I could, whether it was through increased activity in answering questions and not just asking them on the NVDA users international forum, but also offering technical support specific to NVDA on a variety of Indian and South Asian email lists as well as WhatsApp groups. Also, in working with the late Him Prasad Gautam, the former Nepalese translator of NVDA, I learned how to use the Poedit software to get into the TortoiseSVN translation system, and contributed for the period of several months to the Hindi localisation of NVDA. I also became passionate about eSpeak-NG, the open source speech synthesizer that is embedded into NVDA and worked with them on improving some Hindi pronunciation and also am now the eSpeak-NG mailing list moderator.

I also was inspired to join the NVDACon planning committee. NVDACon, for context, is the NVDA users and developers conference. It began with me assisting in the organisation of its international edition, in collaboration with Derek Riemer, Joseph Lee, and so many others. I was also inspired to co-found and anchor the NVDACon Asia edition in 2016, which was a two-day online event which was streamed across RadioUdaan and had over 1300 active listeners and participation from countries across Asia: India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and so many others.

And all in all, just contributing to NVDA has of course made me feel like I’ve done my part in giving back. But it has also allowed me to play some role in shaping its direction, and that I think is something that more users ought to take to heart. In my case, most tangibly, I was active on NVDA’s GitHub issue tracker in filing bugs as I encountered and discovered them, in replicating those that others reported to detail the information that developers had about them, In consolidating the many, many comments that different users from different linguistic proficiencies made into one comment so that developers had a more cohesive sense of what the issue was, what the priority that should be assigned to it would be, and what not.

So all of these things were ones that I found personally enriching, I think that have given me more experience in working in a software project, but are also one of the reasons why I received my Harvard acceptance letter. And this was specifically noted by the admissions officer while they gave me my acceptance offer. Of course I ended up committing to Stanford, in which college application I also mentioned my work with NVDA. So all in all it has been an incredibly positive experience, and I continue to on and off be there. I still receive WhatsApp messages from people who know me as the guy in India who is quite familiar with NVDA who ask me a ton of questions. And I’m always receptive and try to help people out as and when I possibly can.

[Quentin]: Bhavya, we are all indebted to you for your countless contributions in so many ways. Thank you again for joining us, it has been a pleasure hearing about all of your achievements and I look forward to following your career in the future!

[Bhavya]: Likewise, and I look forward to continuing to play whatever little part I can in NVDA’s proliferation and seeing it impact the lives of many, many more around the world. Thank you so much for all you do at NV Access. It’s been a pleasure.