the textbooks were available in digital format.
Only classroom notes had to be keyed in sepa-
rately. In the 11th grade, I had to seek help from
my peers and family members, who would dictate
the chapters from the textbook while I typed
them onto the computer.
The syllabus was extensive, so I had to type
about 100 to 200 pages every day before I could
study them. As a result, I took longer than other
students to prepare. But now when I look back, I
can say that it was well worth the effort and hard
How did you manage laboratory experiments?
When it comes to empowering visually
impaired students, unfortunately India is not as
advanced as the West. In the United States and
the United Kingdom, there are specialized audio-
enabled laboratory equipments that read out
both the instructions and inference for you. In
India, we are yet to subscribe to such technology
because it is very expensive.
During the laboratory sessions, I could easily
read out the instructions from the handbook and
report inferences that could be experienced by
touch or smell, but I needed help to complete
other experiments. For instance, I could identify
a particular chemical by its smell, but I could not
identify the color of the gas or the chemicals
involved in the process. For such experiments, I
had to depend on someone else.
During the practical exam I was allowed to take
an alternate multiple-choice test on the comput-
How did you cope with studying in a regular
Before joining the Delhi Public School, I underwent
training at the National Association for the Blind for two
years. I was given special permission to use either a computer or a laptop to maintain notes, for which I’m indebted to my school.
The transition from the NAB to the DPS wasn’t smooth.
I continued to be dependent on digital material and since
What about examinations? How was your per-
For theory subjects, I was provided with a soft
copy of the question paper, which I would install
on my personal computer. The screen-reading
software would read out the questions. While oth-
ers attempted them on paper, I had to type the
responses on a computer. I was given the same
time as the others and when I was done attempting
the paper, I had to take a printout and give it to the
concerned faculty member for evaluation.
The purpose was to allow me to take the examina-
For practical examinations, the multiple-choice
computer-based test was sometimes combined with
an oral test.
Have you ever faced instances when a reader was
not able to communicate to you effectively?
During the Scholastic Aptitude Test, I was provid-
ed with a Hindi reader who was from a non-science
background. When the teacher struggled with the
symbol, I tried requesting the invigilator to provide
me with a teacher from a science background or at
least allow the reader to cross-check the description
of the symbol with a science or math teacher, but the
invigilator did not oblige. Without identifying the
symbol, I could not proceed further. There I ended
up losing precious time.
In SAT, I scored 760 in mathematics and 750 in
chemistry out of 800 each, which was much less
compared to what my friends scored that year.
Why did you give up on your dream of studying at
I dreamed that if I were to study engineering in
India, it had to be from one of the IITs.
So between 2010 and 2012, I wrote several letters
to the IITs in Chennai, Kanpur and Delhi. Each time, they
not only turned down my request, but were also rude.
Although the IITs have a 3 percent reservation for the
physically handicapped, it is restricted to students with
poor or low vision. Since I am 100 percent blind, they told
me that I was not qualified to take the exam. When some
non-governmental organizations tried to intervene, a faculty member from one of the IITs told them that since the
exam was highly competitive, they could not arrange for a
reader or a separate form of testing for me. They feared
that a reader would try and help me with the answers too.
At first I was very disappointed, but then I decided to
explore institutes in other countries. It was the lack of
options in India that forced me to look abroad.
How do you intend to make use of your time at Stanford?
Stanford is one of the best places to pursue engineering.
I have been passionate about computer science engineering. I have already designed a software called ‘STEM (
science, technology, engineering, math) made easy’, which has
two different applications and aims to help blind students
like me study the subjects easily.
With the benefit of a Stanford education, I think it’s not
only possible to shape up my computing skills, but also try
to develop applications that will improve the condition of
the visually impaired in India.
Besides computers, what are you interested in?
I love music, particularly Indian classical music. I have
been professionally trained in singing for 10 years now. I
also got an opportunity to train under the late sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar a few years ago.
Who inspires you?
I have always admired Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. In 2005, I
had the opportunity to interact with him, and I must say he
had inspiring words for me about how to perceive life and
When Dr Kalam learned of my disability and what I had
achieved, he told me: ‘Son, it is better to have a vision, than
merely have vision (eyesight).’ I will always value his words.
When I was young and people told me that I could not
attempt something because I was blind, I would feel bad.
But over the years, I have realized that nobody is perfect.
All of us have our weaknesses. ;
Kartik Sawhney is awarded the National Child Award for Exceptional Achievements by
Indian lawmaker Karan Singh in 2009.
each session would not last beyond 45 minutes, I had to
further sharpen my concentration so that I could take
My teachers and friends in school were helpful. The teachers encouraged me to meet them after class if I had any
doubts, but they could only do so much. I had to do the learning on my own, which was frustrating at times, especially
because I would not understand simple descriptions.
With fellow student council members in school. Kartik Sawhney’s father is a businessman, mother is a homemaker. He has a twin sister.