NEW DELHI: Arun Mehta wanted to do more with his engineering skills than stare at a computer screen all day. He wanted to use his skills to interact with and empower different kinds of people. Mehta, who has coded a software for scientist Stephen Hawking, has developed many software and apps for people with disabilities.
Bhushan Verma, a multimedia professional, developed a tool for children to help them learn basic concepts like social skills, language and expressions. His inspiration was his little son Sainyam who is autistic.
Arun and Bhushan are among six individuals who were awarded the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP)-MphasiS Universal Design Awards on Wednesday. The awards, which were instituted in 2010, recognize contribution of people under three categories: persons with disabilities, working professionals and organizations. Four companies that work on innovations that can make infrastructure accessible and inclusive were also awarded.
Mehta says his interaction with Hawking was "life altering". It changed his vision and idea of a career in programming. He had to develop software for Hawking that would help him perform many functions with just one button. "It was tough but I really worked hard to make the software fast and useful for Hawking. He is kind and has a brilliant sense of humor," says Mehta .
He has developed a software called Skid for mentally challenged children. "Children, who cannot speak properly, including many with cerebral palsy and autism, are denied access to a regular school, even though they could communicate in other ways, for instance using a computer. It is such other ways that Skid explores," says Mehta.
Dr Satendra Singh, assistant professor, University College of Medical Sciences who was also awarded on Wednesday recollects how he had applied for the position of assistant professor in physiology in 2011 but did not get an interview call. "All others who had applied got a call from UPSC but I didn't. When I called to check why, they said I was not eligible and a person with disability cannot teach at a medical college," says Singh. He did not lose hope. Singh consulted NCPEDP and went to court against such discrimination. Since then, he has filed several RTIs and exposed inaccessible hospitals, ATMs, colleges and post offices.
Nekram Upadhyay, a rehabilitation engineer, was also awarded. He is currently developing a low cost electric wheelchair. While electric wheelchairs costs between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, Nekram's prototype is likely to cost Rs 30,000-40,000. He says customizing technologies for different kinds of disabilities is a tough but satisfying job.
Srinivasu, who is leading accessibility initiatives at a private organization and Arathi Abraham, alumna of NID who designs alternative communication material were also among awardees. Organizations like Handicare â€”Indian Association of Persons with Disabilities, Kriyate Design Solutions, NCR Corporation India and School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal were awarded.