The Blind-Deaf Tech Wiz

Technology changes all of our lives every day, but, as CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports, it's hard to think of anyone who stands to gain more from technological innovation than those who have lost their hearing and sight.

People like Anindya Bhattacharyya, who is both blind and deaf. He has a mission: to live as independently as possible and to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people like himself throughout the world.

It's what brought Bapin, as he's better known, to the Helen Keller National Center in Long Island, New York.

"I didn't know I was going to be a techie in the tech world," Bapin says in sign language.

He is more than that, he is a tech wiz. He not only teaches students, but he has helped technology companies develop new gadgets that allow the blind and deaf to navigate the seeing, hearing world.

"I like to empower them to be successful in whatever they attempt," he told Miller through an interpreter. "I feel that it's a good thing that I do."

It's a long way from the dirt poor village of his native India, where he was born deaf 35 years ago. Bapin came to America after a troubled child-hood and fell in love with the field of high tech.

His contribution has been in research and development. Bapin's done field tests on the Braille modified lap top phone, used by the blind-deaf to talk to the rest of the world via a speaking operator.

He's also helped develop the Tactile Talking Tablet which allows people like him to explore street grids of cities they plan to visit.

Then there's the SBC – or screen Braille communicator – which the deaf-blind can use to do their shopping, order meals in restaurants or communicate with an air-line cabin crew. Bapin himself travels the world using the same equipment.

And there's the portable Global Satellite Positioning System. It helps Bapin navigate while his interpreter, Jane Hecker-Cain, drives.

The device is so good, it allows Bapin to help more than someone who can see.

"The sighted person depends on me," Bapin says.

"He found my husband's place of employment," Hecker-Cain says. "I told him the address which we just passed, and he just named the name of the company – that's pretty cool."

Joe McNulty is the director of the Hellen Keller National Center and Bapin's boss.

"Bapin is clearly one of the brightest deaf-blind people I have ever met," he says. And McNulty thinks Bapin is a role model for the students he instructs.

"We have people working for major companies now where they are handling a client or a customer's account through the Internet, and the person has no idea they are communicating with an employee who happens to be deaf-blind," he says.

Ironically, Bapin says he would have never found his calling if he hadn't been blinded at the age of nine by a jealous kid who threw ashes in his eyes. He tells Miller that becoming blind was a blessing in disguise.

Bapin plans to spend the rest of his life passing on his knowledge and enthusiasm to his students – a case, quite literally, of the blind leading the blind.
  • James Klatell

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