Visual impairment: Retinitis Pigmentosa
Jyotindra V. Mehta was born in a middle class family in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. His visual impairment due to retinitis pigmentosa was a big shock to his family. However, they overcame their anguish and life carried on. Mr. Mehta attended the National High School in Ahmedabad . He was a bright student and Maths, Science and Sanskrit were his favourite subjects. But he was denied studying the first two because of his visual impairment.
To remember his lessons in school, he says, "I used to focus on key content of any subject matter. For example, I can remember important phone numbers, amend codes/abnormal reason codes, shortcuts keys/methods, etc. All this becomes kind of natural with practice based on an acute need, because the option to write and later refer is not available to blind students."
He then did his Bachelor's degree from Gujarat University and his Masters degree in Economics from Saurashtra University. "I learnt Braille during my final year of M.A. through a private tutor," he adds.
After completing his education, he started looked for job opportunities. He was appreciated for his academic achievements but that did not translate into opportunities. The local employment exchange for disabled people was of no help; the government institutions he approached rejected his application.
In 1978, he and his family migrated to the U.S.A. There, he did his Diploma in Computer Programming from Maryland Rehabilitation Center, Johns Hopkins University, in 1980. He got a job quite easily with help from the rehabilitation placement services with M.C.I. Telecommunication, where he worked for the next 12 years. Initially, his colleagues and superiors were amazed at his skill. But even after putting in 12 long years, he was not given a single promotion.
Nevertheless, his patience, perseverance and confidence level never took a dent. He did his M.S. (Information Technology), from George Washington University (U.S.A.). He "used talking books, recording professor's lectures and some Braille for studies" in America.
In 1997, Mr. Mehta came back to India and has since been working with I.B.M. India . He is currently working as Advisory Software Engineer in I.B.M.'s Pune office. He is the lead technical consultant and I.T. specialist for the I.B.M. mainframes competency at the department and company level.
"I.B.M. has a very nice culture and everyone is treated as equals," he remarks. "My colleagues as well as I.B.M. have made life easier for me by providing me with all the help to make me feel comfortable and be highly productive."
An interesting anecdote throws light on this attitude. "It was July 1998, and I had completed one year with I.B.M. India. I had little knowledge of the mainframes systems competency, but was immensely interested in it. My manager at that time, Mr. Rajeev Goswami asked me to manage a mainframe project. He said, 'We think you are the best person for this job.' Mr. Mehta's work led him to pioneer the I.B.M. mainframes' high-end technical competencies (systems administration, systems programming and D.B.2 database administration) in India. He has also authored a research paper on the software migration tools available on I.B.M. mainframes.
At I.B.M., he coaches juniors and strives to bring out their best technical and leadership qualities. "I lead them through encouraging their best qualities and providing constructive feedback."
He says, "I prepare for [the training classes] through notes or memory from previous work experience as well as from the online documentation using screen readers. I have the students read the visual presentation foils, and then explain the material covered in them. I manage students and their work by interacting actively with them, asking questions, helping them solve technical problems and encouraging their participation and ownership."
He was instrumental in the launch of a computer training programme for blind users at the National Association for the Blind, Karnataka Branch, as its technical advisor. He was also the honorary Vice President of the organisation from 2002 to 2004. He was awarded the N.C.P.E.D.P.- Shell Helen Keller Award in 2004.
To relax, Mr. Mehta loves to travel and go on excursions. He likes reading up on history and international relations, as well as reading about and listening to in-depth economic and political analysis.
He strongly feels that t o succeed, society must trade charity for opportunity and trust. "Treat the credentials of everyone on an equal footing - there is no need to make quota-based concessions and adjustments. Also, do not treat persons with disability exactly as their non-disabled counterparts. Be ready for adaptations, to accommodate the diverse needs and aspirations of disabled people."