DO-IT Mentor Profile

by T.V. Raman
The path from Pune, India, to Mountain View, California, could not have been easy for me, but I wave off suggestions that I have overcome any great handicap. Glaucoma dimmed my eyesight gradually during childhood. By age 14, I couldn't see anything. I am the youngest child in a middle-class family of six. I-whose initials stand, respectively, for my hometown and my father's name-showed an early affinity for mathematics. I majored in the subject at the University of Pune, then applied for a master's program in math and computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology-the first blind student ever to do so. I convinced the dean to allow students to satisfy their national social service requirement by reading the screen for me. I had to line up 13 students each semester.

At Cornell University, where I did my doctoral work, I got my first speech synthesizer. Along with the most advanced screen-reading software then available: it simply spoke the text on display. Imagine working with a one-line, 40-character display, instead of a nice, big 60-line monitor. That's what you're fighting against when you use a speech interface. Worse than the tedium, the device rendered many of the mathematics texts I needed to read unintelligible. Most of these papers were written in LaTeX [a notation used to typeset texts containing equations or symbols]. The program would come upon the code for an equation and start saying, ŒBackslash backslash x caret something'-it was ridiculous. So I decided to write a nice weekend hack that would read LaTeX to me sensibly.

I'm currently working with Adobe to incorporate audio formatting into its popular portable document format. I frequently speak at conferences on the future of computer interfaces. On the Internet, I create and present ideas to push the boundaries of technology and persuasively argue for standards that will ensure that the flood of information raises all boats.

My favorite hobby is WebSurfing. I am interested in linguistics and can speak about eight languages, including French, German and several Indian languages. I enjoy working on puzzles, especially those that involve an intuitive feel for mathematics. One of the things I enjoyed doing the most in the early eighties was to solve the Rubik's cube faster than anyone else around me, on an average of about thirty seconds!