Bapin’s Award at KevinCare Ability Award 2020 at Chennai, India
Transcript summary from the Video:
Anindya Bhattacharyya, also known as Bapin, is a multi-talented individual who holds various roles. He works as the coordinator of the national outreach technology development and training program at the Helen Keller National Center in New York. In this capacity, he trains people with vision and hearing loss, as well as their trainers, on how to use computers with assistive technologies such as Braille access, screen magnification, and speech output. He also evaluates and beta tests different applications for individuals with accessibility needs on Windows and Mac operating systems.
In addition to his work, Bapin runs a digital online store business and serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Bapin Group. His journey is remarkable considering that he was born deaf and became completely blind at the age of nine in a village near Kolkata, India. Despite the lack of awareness about deaf-blindness at the time, the support and perseverance of his parents led to a scholarship at the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, which completely transformed his life.
From learning English Braille and American Sign Language simultaneously to becoming the first deafblind student at the University of Arkansas and now being employed full-time, Bapin’s journey has been extraordinary. Technology plays a vital role in his life, enabling him to communicate, be independent, and access the world. Without technology, he would feel isolated and lack the ability to interact with others.
Aside from his involvement in technology, Boppin enjoys various hobbies. He has a passion for working with wood and has created cabinets for his kitchen and a dining table. He also has a natural love for cooking.
Bapin’s life has been dedicated to challenging the perception that deafblind individuals cannot lead normal lives. He cherishes his time with his wife and young son, and his guide dog provides him with the ability to travel independently worldwide. In recognition of his achievements, Anindya Bhattacharyya received the Cavin Care Ability Special Recognition Award in 2020.
Bapin Short Interviewfrom NCDB OHOA
My Life from Darkness to Life – BildungsTV June 29, 2017
In this talk, Bapin describes how he is able to live a self-determined and independent life despite his disability. It was recorded on June 20, 2017 in Linz and was organized by the regional association of the Deaf Unions in Upper Austria.
Summary of the above speech:
Good evening, it is a great honor for me to be here in Austria today and to have the opportunity to give this talk. I find it incredibly inspiring to see so many people here today, who have taken the time to come and listen to my speech. I hope you will find the stories I have prepared for you to be engaging, and if you feel bored, I must tell you that sleeping is not allowed. The neighbor will give you a push if necessary. The theme of this talk is independence and my journey from darkness to light.
Some may think that being deaf and blind means living in darkness, but even if you can’t hear or see, if your mind is closed, you still experience darkness. In my life, through my knowledge and ability to experience new things, I live in brightness. That’s why I have chosen to speak today about my journey from darkness to light.
I was born deaf but could see. I grew up in India and attended school there. I could read lips and I loved my mother tongue, Bengali. I also played rugby, and in the rugby team, I was the only deaf person. Everyone else could hear and see. I relied on my senses, and I was very good at rugby, scoring many goals. Our coach saw my talent and decided to make me the captain.
However, there was a boy in the team who was very jealous. When he found out that I was going to be the captain, he became very angry because he wanted to be the captain himself. But he wasn’t as good as me. Out of jealousy, we got into a fight, and he threw hot ash into my face and eyes. Suddenly, everything became blurry, and I tried to wash the ash out of my eyes, but the next day, I still couldn’t see clearly. Over the course of three months, I gradually lost my vision until I was completely blind. Imagine that. I communicated through lip-reading, but when I became blind, I couldn’t do that anymore.
My parents were both teachers, and they had to communicate with me by drawing block letters on my palm. They spoke, and I understood through the letters they drew on my palm. I had to leave school because there were no interpreters, and I couldn’t lip-read anymore. So, for four years, I couldn’t do the basics.
During those four years when I couldn’t do anything, my father searched all over India for a school that would accept me. But all the schools turned me away because they had no idea how to educate a deaf-blind student. Eventually, my father met the director of a blind school in India who had previously worked at the Perkins School for the Blind in the USA. He presented the idea to my father that we could attend the Perkins School together. My father wrote a letter, and after waiting for two weeks, we received a positive response. Yes, I could attend the school, and there was also a scholarship for me and my father to travel to the USA. These were great news for us, especially since the standard of living in India was much lower, and we couldn’t afford to live in the USA without the scholarship.
In 1983, my father and I went to the USA. At that time, I couldn’t speak English; I only knew a few signs like “I love you,” “I want to eat,” “I need to sleep,” and “Where is the bathroom?” I could only communicate by drawing letters on my palm. I remember my first night in the USA. We had already arrived at the Perkins School, and my father asked me if he should sleep in the same room. I said no because I wanted to be independent and not too dependent on him. The language barrier was difficult to overcome.
Back then, I didn’t speak English. I only knew a few signs like “I love you,” “I want to eat,” “I need to sleep,” “Where is the restroom?” I could only communicate by drawing letters in my palm. I remember my first night in the USA vividly. We had already arrived at the Perkins School, and my father asked if he should sleep in the same room, in the same accommodation. I said no, I wanted to be alone because I was afraid I would become too dependent on him. My father agreed. The language barrier was difficult to overcome. I had to learn English, and communication with other students and the school itself was very basic. I communicated using block letters, but over time, I was able to expand my knowledge. My father attended classes with me and acted as my interpreter between English and Wrangler Lee. During that time, I learned English, American Sign Language, and it was an exciting period for me because I loved reading, so it was a great opportunity for me to continue doing that. I took every chance to learn, even studying at night to do my homework alone and be able to read again.
I would like to share a small anecdote about my accommodation at the Perkins School. One weekend, my roommate went home, and I was shocked to find myself alone in the room. I was scared because I had never slept alone before. I thought about leaving because I felt cold, but I didn’t know how to express it. I could only express that I was cold and scared. Eventually, my father was called, and I told him that I was afraid to be alone. The school staff was surprised that I was scared, but I confronted that fear and slept alone in the room, doing something I had never done before. Since my family was very close-knit, we were used to being together all the time, and being in separate rooms was something new and unfamiliar to me. In addition to learning a new language, I learned English and American Sign Language during that year at the Curling School. I could communicate with everyone, read and understand very well. My writing skills were okay but not particularly good. It took even longer for them to become very good. The school staff was impressed with my progress and how good of a student I was. If I had returned to India after that year, I would have lost much of the knowledge I had acquired. So the decision was made for me to stay in the USA. I attended middle school and high school, and my father told me back then that he couldn’t always be there to support me, so I had to be independent. This statement stayed with me for many years. I graduated from middle school and high school, and I was motivated to continue my education at a university. I searched for a university, applied for scholarships, and eventually got accepted to Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina. However, I only stayed there for a year because I wasn’t satisfied. I decided to continue my studies at the University of Little Rock in Arkansas. Bill Clinton was the US President at that time, and he was from Arkansas. That influenced my decision, and I chose to study political science. Another reason for this choice was that I wanted to overcome barriers and see legislative changes for the better. I wanted to become a lawyer, and I graduated with a degree in political science in 1999.
After completing my studies, I embarked on a job search. My dream was to work as a policy analyst, specifically in the field of law. I wanted to analyze case studies, conduct research, and collaborate with lawyers. However, it was extremely difficult to find a job in that field, and the pay wasn’t great either. So, I needed a new idea.
At that time, I had a friend who worked at the Helen Keller National Center in New York, and he told me they had an opening for a small technologist. Even though I didn’t have a degree in computer science or technology, my friend told me I had excellent skills and a strong interest in technology. I had been interested in technology since elementary school and had gained a lot of experience in the field. I even built my own computer back in the 80s, and I loved tinkering with technology.
Based on my computer experience, I applied for the position at the Helen Keller National Center. I was called for an interview and impressed them with my knowledge of different technologies. I was hired to train other deaf-blind individuals on how to use computers. I moved to New York and worked as a technology trainer for two years. When the center’s previous director left, I became his successor and headed the department, which initially consisted of two people. We expanded the department, acquired additional equipment and assistive devices, and I held workshops to teach deaf-blind individuals how to collaborate and use technology.
Currently, I work at Signal Form as a trainer. My role involves teaching deaf-blind individuals how to use various devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and other communication tools provided by government organizations in the US. These programs were established in 2010 by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that people with disabilities have access to telecommunication. However, these technical aids are quite expensive, like the device I have here, which costs $3000. To address this, the government provides funding so that individuals can have access to these technical aids.
In addition to my work, I also founded my own company called GrooveFunk.com, where I sell equipment that benefits the lives of deaf-blind individuals. Apart from technology, I have other hobbies as well. I enjoy working with wood and designing and building things. I used to work with ceramics but now prefer working with wood, such as building kitchen cabinets or making dining tables. I also love cooking, and my wife is lucky to have me cook so many meals for her.
Many may wonder how I can travel alone and be independent. I use a personal service provider (PSP) who acts as a deaf-blind assistant. Through a Bluetooth connection with my devices, I receive information about directions, altitudes, and distances. For example, when going to a restaurant 15 blocks away from home, I have all the information about the distance and the number of streets I need to cross. If I make a wrong turn, I receive a vibration signal to correct my path. I also use a GPS to navigate during flights.
Communication is vital for me, and I have a card that explains my blindness and requests communication through Braille written on my palm. Additionally, I use my iPhone to communicate with my family and friends. I work full-time, and in case of any family emergency, I receive an SMS and can immediately respond. Technology is incredibly important for me to communicate, be independent, and have access to information.
Family plays a significant role in my life. I have a wonderful wife and an eight-year-old son who can hear and see. I also have a guide dog, and when I travel alone, I rely on my family and support systems. Being a family-oriented person, I take my son to school and pick him up, often using the train.
…to be continued
Sesquicentennial Lecture Series: Anindya (Bapin) Bhattacharyya – November 14, 2013
Trojan Talk with Anindya “Bapin” Bhattacharyya
12/13/11 – “Why Is This So Important? Hearing First-Hand From Bapin Bhattacharyya – Part 1”
12/13/11 – “Why Is This So Important? Hearing First-Hand From Bapin Bhattacharyya – Part 2”
12/13/11 – “Why Is This So Important? Hearing First-Hand From Bapin Bhattacharyya – Part 3”