To see is a cherished gift. However, not everybody is fortunate enough to enjoy the privilege of sight and pursue their dreams as much as anyone does. But this does not mean that they can no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel. Despite difficulties, visually-impaired people long to see what lies ahead as much as we do, live their lives to the fullest, see their dreams’ to completion, knowing that there is hope.
This is the core message in the speech of Zuby Onwuta, founder and creator of Think and Zoom, as he recalls and shares his lived personal experience starting from being declared legally blind, medically discharged from the military, gaving up his medical career plan and finally almost quitting his engineering degree as it became too difficult for him on a day-to-day basis.
What gave birth to Think and Zoom is, in itself, the story of its creator and founder. As a young boy from Nigeria, Onwuta left his hometown for the United States of America. Apart from his dogged determination, he was armed with nothing else other than a measly US$200 in his pocket and a burning desire to become a medical doctor. He joined the US army to finance his pre-med studies.
Just barely two years in the military, he suffered a catastrophic eyesight loss. He was diagnosed with Stargardts macular degeneration, a very rare eye disease that causes progressive loss of sight. It turned out that his visual loss is genetic thing. There is no fix for it. Prescription glasses, contact lenses or surgery just could not work for it.
The only possible coping mechanism is a magnifier—things that can zoom.
Declared legally blind, Onwuta bid goodbye to the military and consequently relinquished his medical career plan. He was told by the doctor that his eyes have finished declining; unknowingly his struggle of sight is not yet over.
He decided to take up a degree in Computer Engineering, but his declining eye sight made it too much for him to bear. He was almost unable to complete the degree if not for the support system he received from people around him.
A man on a mission
Determined to help other people who are similarly challenged, he ventured into the almost impossible task of conquering visual loss. His mission: turn his personal problem into a global solution.
He looked upon himself as its own case study, patiently dissecting the nitty-gritty of things. In a series of soul-searching questions, he was able to tap into a number of creative solutions that can help people with visual impairment:
- early detection and diagnosis of visual impairment by leveraging on innovative games;
- making diagnosis a bit faster and more accurate by streamlining the diagnosis;
- making it easier for other people to understand the very nature of the visual loss by means of experiential education such as the use of virtual real headsets making people try it themselves, with the end-goal of enabling parents and teachers to build collaborative support ecosystem for the patient;
- connecting the diagnosed patient by immersing him to experiences of people who have similarly struggled and overcome their visual loss;
- enabling them to access coping mechanism through the use of assistive technology devices.
The idea behind Think and Zoom is to provide people with visual impairment with hands-free visual magnification at democratized and cost-reasonable terms. This technology is not only for enlarging things, it also enables one to think and read, which is pretty significant considering that 300 million people globally have 90% illiteracy rate.
True to his cause, Onwuta’s company promotes awareness to those who suffer from visual impairment and other disabilities that much like him they can live normal lives, pursue their dreams and create a better future for themselves and the people around them.
Find out more about the inspiration behind Think and Zoom in the video below:
With renewed hope and imbued inspiration for those who were deprived of the gift of sight, Onwuta emphatically concluded: “What kind of world are we going to create? We are going to build a world where visual impairment no longer steals dream or career…where accidental disability can no longer prevent somebody from parasailing…a world where we all can think and submit to a better and brighter future.”
Zuby Onwuta is a Disability Advocate, UN Global Speaker, and Founder/CEO of ThinkAndZoom.com. His work experience includes software engineering roles at Alcatel-Lucent, Goldman Sachs & Co and IBM. He holds a B.Sc in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and business certificates from MIT Sloan and Harvard Business School.