Stanford at your finger-tips.
For the last couple of months, Genya and me had developed a routine. We would wake up and grab coffee in the morning together at the Coupa Cafe (near the Green Library) before heading off into our different directions. On one of these days, as we were enjoying our morning brew, I noticed a guy who was visually impaired make his way to the coffee shop. As I sat there watching, he carefully and deliberately walked in a big semi-circle, around all the parked bikes, tables and chairs and made it perfectly to the counter and placed his order. I was amazed and intrigued. How the hell did he know his way around campus so perfectly.
Eventually, my curiosity got the best of me and I walked up to him and started chatting to him. And boy, was I was blown away. This guy, Anthony Vasquez, was pursuing his master’s degree in East Asian Studies. He told me he was born blind, but that hadn’t stopped him from anything – from learning languages (he’s well versed in Mandarin and fluent in Spanish) to traveling to Beijing, writing for the Stanford Daily and hosting his own show on the local radio.
Over the period of last couple of weeks, we’ve become good friends. I see him every week at social dance (yep, he’s learning how to dance – and is pretty good at it). Coincidentally he lives quite close to Genya’s apartment, so whenever I go over to her place, I knock on his door and say hi.
Last week, when I knocked on his door, we chatted for a bit, and I asked him to show me his gadgets that he had. He agreed to give me a glimpse into his world. (I took pictures with his permission to share my findings here.)
1. Large-scale kick ass Braille map of Stanford University.
The buildings, to street names, to bus-stops, this map has it all. It even has indentations for grass. (I wonder if something like this exists at IITM. Are you listening IIT admins? ) This, coupled with maps on his portable Braille PDA, he can get pretty much everywhere. So, that’s how he knew exactly where Coupa was.
2. A text to speech software on his laptop which reads out everything to him. He opened up Fb and showed us how he navigated the page. He claims he uses Fb quite often to keep track of people and listen to what other people are up to. Fascinating!
When I explained to him that his Fb page looked very plain compared to what I was used to, he explained that the normal Fb page had too much flash and java for his text to speech software to navigate. So he used the mobile version of the site. And then he mentioned that he followed my blog and showed it to me. Whoa. This is so awesome.
3. A typewriter that can type in Braille. He was blazing fast at typing and explained the Braille alphabet and even wrote our names in Braille.
We spent almost an hour talking and seeing the different gadgets and books he had. It was just super amazing for me to see how he used technology and managed to go about his daily life. It was almost like hearing about a parallel world – one I was unaware of. It was an enlightening experience for sure. He’s promised to write a guest post for me soon, so keep an eye out.
The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. – Helen Keller
From what Anthony tells me, it seems that Stanford does it’s best to make sure that he gets whatever is needed for him to pursue his career. I wonder if there are any visually impaired people on the IIT campus and how the IIT system takes care of them.