We first met Karanveer Singh a few months ago when he showed up to one of our NWACS Volunteer Meet & Greets. It was our great pleasure to have him as a guest speaker at this year’s NWACS Fall Conference! Karanveer gave a short presentation to share his story with us right after lunch. He is a charismatic young man living with cerebral palsy who communicates primarily with a dynamic eye gaze communication system. He has presented this year as a keynote speaker at an Apple conference alongside Lt Governor Cyrus Habib, as well as a keynote for the Washington Occupational Therapy Association conference.
Here is the transcript of the speech he gave at NWACS2018:
Sat shri akaal, it means hello in Punjhabi. It is considered to be a greeting of respect and even a blessing to the person you are talking to. It is a blessing to be here to talk to you all today. My name is Karanveer. I want to tell you all a bit of my story. I was born in Redmond, Washington, and when I was 6-months-old, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I grew up with my disabilities, but I never thought of myself as disabled.
I’ve always considered myself as any other normal individual. People tend to think that I’m not capable to do anything, however with the help of assistive technology I am proving my doubters wrong. I understand 4 languages; Punjhabi, Hindi, Urdu, and English. How many languages can you understand?
Just like anyone else I have my own set of challenges. I, too, enjoy and worry about many things and maybe the same things all of you do. I have many hopes and dreams about my future and I’m always trying to improve myself so I can one day achieve what I desire. My disability makes achieving these dreams more difficult than it is for most people, but I am not most people. My name comes from Karon, the brave warrior king in ancient India, who fought his battles with great focus and concentration. I like to live up to the name by fighting my battles with patience and determination.
In 2004 I went to India, where I learned about many different cultures. During my time in India, I didn't have access to school. I didn't go to school there because they don't have enough resources for people with disabilities. They don't really have a lot of hope for people with disabilities. They also tend to believe that anyone with a disability is incapable of doing anything remarkable in life. I personally believe that this stigma needs to change. I am thinking about giving a speech for people with disabilities in India. When I moved back to Kent in 2014, I got myself back into school.
Throughout my life I’ve completed about 3 years of school. I got a Tobii Dynavox communication device in 2016, which allowed me to communicate and express myself more elaborately with the world. At present, I'm attending Highline College to pursue my biggest passion of movie editing and finish up my G E D. To edit videos, I use a Macintosh computer with Final Cut X and a Glassouse Head mouse, which has been working really well. This head mouse has an infrared beam built into an eyeglass frame and connects to my computer with Bluetooth. I have edited videos for class assignments, commercials, and for presentations. I even edited a video for Ms. Heidi’s WOTA presentation last weekend. My dream is to be a movie editor in Hollywood and Bollywood.
I am not touching anything to use this communication device, but I access it only with my eyes. It took me about 9 months to master the Tobii Dynavox. I had to really practice and focus on learning to use its state of the art eye-gaze technology. Being the explorer I am, I found it quite fun and easy to use by experimenting with it, while learning how to use the software. The part that I find hardest is using correct grammar and spelling to write an assignment or a speech. I have many people coaching me to improve my writing skills.
Being an everyday user of the Tobii Dynavox gives me a lot of time and experience to think about some ideas on how to improve the Tobii Dynavox. I have experienced that the Tobii Dynavox eye gaze system doesn't work in sunlight, which makes it impossible for me to enjoy a nice sunny day and have a decent conversation outside, or even be able to invite anyone to enjoy it with me. I believe that fixing this issue should be on Tobii Dynavox’s top ten to do lists, that is if they have one.
Also, rain can interfere with the eye tracking system, as it’s not possible to always have a cover. Tobii Dynavox needs to make a device that is 100% weatherproof. Like so many of us, I enjoy being outside. We may need to talk to someone when we're outside, or find ourselves needing help. It is frustrating when we cannot express ourselves and be independent because of the weather. Another idea is that Tobii Dynavox should allow us to upgrade the hardware in our devices so we can customize our devices to meet our needs. I would also like to see a translation feature built into Communicator 5, as I want to send messages to my grandmother in Punjhabi.
Additionally, it would be helpful to create a new interface in Communicator 5. In the software, I would add common applications such as YouTube, Twitter, Linked In, Snap Chat, Netflix, Google, and Instagram. Assistive technology gives me the ability to do the basic things in life, and I’m sure we can all agree that these applications are a very integral part of our lives. Another cool feature I’d love to see is that emojis and bitmojis be added into Communicator 5.
I was recently the keynote speaker at WOTA (Washington Occupational Therapy Association) where I shared my personal story, my communication journey and also showed videos that I edited myself. I have been building my skills as a presenter using my Tobii Dynavox and videos since January of 2017. I have presented to the Kent School District IT department, the Bellevue Microsoft store, and I was also keynote speaker for an Apple conference event last March.
Like many of you, I enjoy listening to music. I believe music has no language, so it defies cultural boundaries. I enjoy listening to classical music as I find it relaxing. I love listening to classical pieces that include the Bansuri (a.k.a. the flute) over a delicious bowl of kheer, a type of rice pudding. I’m also blessed with the gift of reading anyone’s aura. Feel free to ask me to read yours, if you have $20 to donate. Hahaha! My hobbies are playing video games and watching Netflix. Long story short, I am your typical college student... except way cooler.
I'm happy with the person my disabilities have helped me to become, and do not see them as roadblocks. In fact they make me a stronger person with no limits. If you want to stay in touch with your favorite volunteer, you can find me at the next NWACS [Volunteer] meeting. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak at your conference today. I really appreciate it!!