I-Stem Hackathon 2018 – Edition 1

I-STEM or Inclusive Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is a self-advocacy group of individuals with visual impairment, who have chosen to pursue careers in STEM related subjects. On January 20 & 21st 2018, the I-Stem hackathon was held at IIIT BangaIore. It was co-organized by E-Health Research Centre at IIITB, Vision Empower, Vision Aid and Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC). The hackathon highlighted the need to develop awareness in the information technology industry about the necessity to recognize the capabilities of visually impaired programmers and provide the necessary accommodations, so that they may not be denied the opportunity to pursue their chosen occupations.

The twelve hackathon teams comprised of five participants in each team, comprising of two visually impaired programmers, two sighted programmers from the industry and one engineering student from IIIT Bangalore. The twenty five visually impaired participants who came from across the country, are either currently studying at premier institutes such as IITs, NITs, IIITs, NSIT or are working at leading technology companies, government and public sector organizations and other startups. Twenty three sighted engineers from eleven companies including Deutsche Bank, Honeywell, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Mindtree, Oracle, Salesforce, Sasken, TCS, Uber and Wipro participated in the event.

Prof. S. Sadagopan(Director, IIIT Bangalore), Mr. Ajay Seth, IAS (Additional Chief Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Dept., Govt. of Karnataka), Dr. Y.S. Rajan (Honorary Distinguished Professor, Indian Space Research Organization) and Dr. Chieko Asakawa (IBM Fellow) shared their perspectives at the inaugural event.

A panel discussion on “Disability and the Tech Industry: Employment and Product Perspectives” was organized in which representatives of corporate HR practices and Inclusiveness were invited to share their thoughts on the demands and practices in the industry and the necessity of creating inclusive workplaces. The honorable panelists were Mr. Ankit Rajiv Jindal, Dell/Friends for Inclusion, Mr. Karthik Padmanabhan (Google), Ms. Meenu Bhambhani (Mphasis), Mr. P. Rajasekharan (V-Shesh), Mr. Rakesh Paladugula (Adobe Systems/Maxability), Ms. Sonia Sahgal (Microsoft), and Ms. Vidya Rao (Wipro).

Besides informal networking and exchange of ideas between the organizing partners of the event, the hackathon provided a forum for students, academicians and industry practitioners to confer about the challenges faced by the visually impaired in society, and suggest ways to promote STEM education among them. Recruiting managers from several firms joined on both days to interact with the budding engineers and others who are already employed, to understand their needs, capabilities and potential, and to equip themselves to take the first steps in providing for an inclusive workspace. Several visually impaired participants received interview requests during or soon after the event.

The twelve teams presented their creations to the panel of judges comprising of Prof. T K Srikanth, Professor & Faculty-in-charge Computing, IIITB, Mr. George who leads the Economic and Technology Inclusion and Accessibility initiatives at Enable India and Mr. Srinivasu Chakravarthula, Lead Accessibility Consultant, IAAP – International Association of Accessibility Professionals.

Winning teams:

First prize: Rishabh Jain (IIT Roorkee), Rutwik Ravi Teja Vempati (IIT Madras), Aman Datta (Honeywell), Ramakrishna Kulkarni (Wipro), Mayank Senani (IIIT Bangalore) : A product using computer vision and NLP to identify objects in an image, determine relationship between them and return a description of this relationship.

Second prize: Manjot Singh (DPS Gurgaon), Harsha HD (Bangalore University), Abhijit Dasgupta (Honeywell), Sai Krishna (Juniper Networks), Mohammad Khalid (IIIT Bangalore) : A novel inclusive game of snakes and ladders with Harry Potter.

Third prize: Team 4-Kartik Sawhney (Stanford University), Abhishek Agarwal (Securities and Exchange Board of India), Sidharth Raja (Uber), Shashidhar Gurumurthy (Salesforce), Tarun pandey (IIIT Bangalore) : A product for currency identification for the blind which is especially useful after demonetization, since the identifying features to distinguish currency by the blind are no longer available.