Ida Behreini, a Bayonne resident and High Tech High School graduate, was recently awarded the Nathan and Salle Rogoff Scholarship for Academic Excellence, which honors visually impaired people.
Behreini is legally blind, meaning she has a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in her better eye with the best possible correction. However, her true abilities belie her technical disability. She is studying computer science at Drew University, where she is entering her senior year, and hopes to apply those skills to advance technological innovations that make the world more accessible for visually impaired people.
“Growing up when my classmates were writing in notebooks, I couldn’t see to write things down,” said Behreini, 21. “I was born in a very lucky time when they were starting to make eBooks available. It’s been such an asset, more so to people with disabilities, all sorts of disabilities, like dyslexia and visual impairment, to be able to access the same material as their classmates.”
Those without visual disabilities may take for granted the ability to decipher the meaning of an icon, a logo, or a garbled set of onscreen directions using only their eyes. For those who cannot see the screen, the process of listening to the software read the screen aloud can be time consuming and frustrating. Companies that increasingly rely on software and technology to interact with their customers understand that making their user interfaces accessible for everyone is good for business.
“Blind people need to do everything that regular people do,” said Behreini. “They need to bank, go shopping, read a book. So, any industry needs to adopt these standards.”
At her summer internship at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Jersey City, she is helping to ensure that software code has embedded descriptions of the objects on the screen, so those functions can be read aloud to the user. The quality of those descriptions is vitally important to the software’s accessibility, and not many people are better suited for the challenge than Behreini.
Behreini is a computer whiz with experiential understanding of the needs of people with disabilities. She is also an excellent writer. She won first place in a Library of Congress writing competition in NJ in her freshman year at High Tech and was an honorable mention winner in the country.
Joan Marie Bellotti, Behreini’s high school English teacher, called her “one of the most amazing writers” she’s worked with. “She’s unbelievably descriptive. You can really picture what she is writing about.”
“Historically, the field I am in has been a very homogeneous field with gender, ethnicity, a bunch of things,” said Behreini. “We’ve seen moves to improve that with women and minorities, and I consider disability a minority group. We should be included in the decisions in tech’s future.”
Like with any historically homogeneous professional field, those who are different stand out and by doing so, inspire others. Through the internet, Behreini connected with a completely blind computer programmer at Microsoft who became a mentor to her.
That programmer helped develop mobile software, which Behreini said is becoming integral to the future of innovation in accessible technology. That software, called Soundscape, helps blind people locate stores in their neighborhood by cuing a sound that corresponds to that location.
Accessible technology isn’t just for those with disabilities. Accessible design is good for everybody, said Behreini, who noted the NJ Transit mobile app and its ability to allow riders to purchase tickets through a phone instead of using ticketing machines that aren’t always as easy to use or locate for visually impaired people on just as tight a schedule as anyone else.
Behreini still has a year to go in college, and like all students, is starting to think about the future and is keeping her options open.
“I think after this internship ends, and I finish up my senior year, we’ll see where it leads me,” said Behreini. “It might be interesting to start at a company like JP Morgan.”