On a warm Sunday evening, an excited Ruchir Falodiya welcomes us in his small apartment. With a million dollar smile on his face, he said, “Let me show you something really cool” and he quickly reaches out for his laptop. He pulls up a webpage in Hindi and the speakers come to life as it begins to read out the text on the screen. He says, “It can now read Hindi also.”
Ruchir is one of the developers for the NVDA project, which makes computers accessible to blind people. Ruchir has a day job where he manages online campaigns and brand for Tanishq. And by the way, did we mention that Ruchir is blind?
Never a disability
Ruchir prides himself in having had a completely normal childhood and upbringing. “I was never put into any kind of special school and I think every blind person in the world should be allowed a normal lifestyle. How will someone ever be a part of the general society if you bring them up making them think they’re different and less capable?”
Ruchir is a BCA and MBA from Alliance University. His experience on getting employed is an interesting one –
“I really wanted to work for Oracle. The kind of work that they’ve done in the space of making computers accessible to blind people was amazing and I wanted to contribute to it. But at the interview, the hiring team from Oracle asked me, ‘how would you work?’ That really shocked me. When people from the pioneers of accessibility solutions itself don’t know how people like me could work, it just goes to show how little this world knows about accessibility solutions.”
Ruchir spends a fair amount of time counselling parents of disabled children, encouraging them to let their children be more independent but exposing them to the real world. “If I can lead an independent life, anyone can.”
NVDA and a philosophy of equality
NVDA is a free and open source project which is aimed at making computers more accessible to blind people. An alternative to expensive OCR software, the philosophy behind NVDA is two-fold. One is to make normal computers accessible to blind people and the other is to make accessibility and the second reason is to make accessibility technology available for free.
Ruchir shares, “there are already so many barriers keeping blind people from entering main stream employment and putting a price to accessibility is just one more barrier. Braille keyboards and costly accessibility solutions are things that will get in the way of a company hiring a visually challenged person. There shouldn’t be any such barrier at all.”
Some of the main sponsors for the NVDA project offered to buy the technology for a large sum of money. The team refused to sell out. Ruchir explains why –
“NVDA was built with the vision that a blind person shouldn’t have to pay extra for something that will allow them to be more normal. Had we sold out, the buyers could have sold the software, which would have completely beaten the purpose of making NVDA.”
With the newly developed support for Hindi, Ruchir hopes that more people can use the technology.
Less sympathy, more empathy
Ruchir shares that he hates being seen through sympathetic eyes. “As a kid a lot of people used to question as to how I would pass my exams. Taking my marksheet with 90% on it thrilled me every single time. I love proving people wrong through hard work” And hard work has exactly been what has pulled Ruchir through his life and has made his disability almost non-existent. Some of his friends say, “Being blind, he sees a lot more than people who can”.
His request to people is a simple one and something that will make the world a much better place – “Be a less sympathetic and more empathetic.”
Get in touch with Ruchir on twitter @ruchir89.