When Shaswat Jena quit his job as a quality analyst in the gaming domain, his friends all thought he had passed up something special. But Shaswat was looking for something with a little more impact, and today, he’s rightfully proud of the innovative work he does as a part of the core Eye-D team.
Eye-D is making huge strides in the inclusive technology field with their app, which seeks to empower visually impaired persons and ensure that they have the aid they require to lead independent lives. The app uses the camera function to guide people through their day-to-day lives. Through the Eye-D app, a visually impaired user can explore and navigate the streets; find landmarks; and even identify objects of interest. The app can even read text aloud to you – erasing the dependency on other people to be guides and helpers.
Finding His Niche
Shaswat’s decision to move away from his lucrative gaming job and focus on adaptive technology is something he’s never regretted. Growing up in a small town, he was always aware of the need for innovative technology. He also had a front-row seat to the struggles that his uncle, who had multiple disabilities, faced every day.
Shaswat says, “I’ve seen the emotional trauma that they (persons with disability) face, which actually leads to most of them being broke. And that affects the entire family, not only the person who is disabled. So, I always wanted to build something that would actually help somebody become more independent.”
Shaswat handles a lot of the operations for Eye-D, and is a community manager in the real sense of the word. Every day he interacts with Eye-D users from all over the world and in a dozen different languages. He explains, “I actually do the end-to-end testing. That is the entire quality analysis of whatever is being developed before our users start using it. I also interact with all our users globally, we have users in around 150 countries. It involves talking to them and that’s in 12 different languages as well. So I get queries in almost all languages – starting from Czech and ending with Chinese. We have Arabic, Czech, Chinese, Malaysian, Brazilian, and Spanish users – so over time I’ve actually gotten some basic understanding of all these languages.”
He’s the point of contact for a lot of the users. Their perspectives and feedback are what really shape the product, he says. “Until we understand what our users want, what they need, and what exactly the problem is – it won’t be easy to develop something. We do a lot of research before developing anything and we follow a specific cycle. So, start developing something, go and test it out on a limited set of users, take their feedback. Based on their feedback we do a certain round of changes.”
The Challenges Of The Job
Networking and helping people from all over the world is not an easy task – and even more so if it’s in a different language and for people whose perspectives are innately different from yours.
Shaswat muses, “The thing is, whenever you develop something there will always be people who don’t know what they actually need. When you start talking to them you figure out – this is what he is saying, but this is what he wants. So that’s one thing that as an innovator or an entrepreneur you need to understand. And you need to strike a balance between it and derive insight from what they’re saying. Based on that you can build products.”
The beauty of Eye-D, according to Shaswat, is that it adapts technology that is already readily available, making it a cost-effective and accessible option. All that is required to work the Eye-D app is a smartphone with a camera – something that can easily be found in most countries world over.
Additionally, the smartphone era is closely linked to the internet generation and the growing number of WiFi connections within the country and all over the world. Shaswat says, “The Eye-D app needs internet connectivity to run, and that was one of the key challenges we faced in India. But the moment Jio was launched, it gave the country’s connectivity a much-needed boost.”
Bringing A New Perspective To The Field
Shaswat’s gamer background has come in handy while navigating his new role. He elaborates, “A game is something people play to enjoy themselves. But I had to play it to find out if actually, a game makes sense. To find out if it’s logical and if there are any problems. My role was evaluating the product and seeing if it was up to the mark.”
Empowerment is something Shaswat is passionate about. He’s driven to find creative ways to improve quality of life for those who have visual impairments. He says, “Technology will be a key enabler in helping people live a better life by augmenting reality. A person can’t see but when you provide him with a camera, that can derive the context of his surroundings and describe it in real time. He is aware of where he is, and he’ll probably have a better understanding of what he needs to do next rather than feeling lost.”
Building A More Inclusive Country
Shaswat says, “The mentality towards disabilities is definitely changing and with the whole Accessible India campaign, we are taking things to the next level. Our websites are becoming more accessible, the government has been working towards making workplaces and public places accessible. All this is driving change in a direction that will ensure that five or ten years down the line cities in India will be very accessible as compared to cities of today.”
However, he says, we have a long way to go, “A lot of work is going on in the assistive technology space so we should see some interesting solutions soon. People are developing them. But the problem in India is – we develop a lot of things, but we don’t actually go talk to the people for whom we are developing. And that’s what matters a lot!”
He explains, “It’s like me or you trying to build an aeroplane but not knowing aerodynamics. You need to understand the subject, only then you can build something. It’s as simple as me being a Professor of Astrophysics when I have no clue what Astrophysics means!”
A fitting reminder for a country that is home to the biggest blind community in the world. India, Shaswat says, is the world’s biggest market for assistive technology. A sobering thought! But we can’t help but feel grateful that we have bright minds like Team Eye-D who are working hard to make the world a more accessible place. We at KnowYourStar can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Take Away – Habits That Help!
We asked Shaswat what habits or traits he’s cultivated that have made him more successful. He says, “To be honest, I’m still trying to develop some habits. I’m trying to streamline my life and it takes time. I just graduated in 2014, so it’s a bit tough to behave like I’m in my mid-thirties when actually I’m in my mid-twenties. I’m trying to be better at sticking to a schedule and planning.”
KnowYourStar.com (KYS) interviewed Shaswat Jena as part of India Inclusion Summit(IIS). IIS is a platform that brings awareness and drives the inclusion of specially-abled people at corporates, schools, policymakers and NGOs. Yes, KYS is the official blogging partner for IIS, and backs the event whole-heartedly so that we can build a more Inclusive India.
Liked reading this? Then you might also like to read Prateek Kaul – On Starting Giftabled And Using E-Commerce To Build A More Inclusive Society.