Sohankumar Motwani knows how it’s like to live with impaired vision.
He was born premature and blind on his right eye.
Despite his decreased ability to see, he developed an interest in technology when he first held a computer in second grade at Don Bosco Makati.
“What caught my attention back then was the fact that it wasn’t just about playing games. Computers allowed you do so much more—learn, customize, and create,” said Sohan.
By this time, his dream was to pursue a Computer Science degree in college.
However, at age 15, the vision on his left eye started to blur. “The doctor said it was all because I was born premature,” he recalled.
Sohan, with the support of his Pakistani family who settled in the Philippines 40 years ago, underwent a total of five surgeries: three in the Philippines and two in India. He had to temporarily quit school.
“The attending doctors stated they had done everything they could. We even tried to seek further treatment in China, but we were advised there were no other possible solutions available,” he shared.
“My parents warned me that I would not be able to live as normally as I was used to.”
Then came years of depression.
“It was like the end of the world for me,” related Sohan. “But the greatest thing that I have learnt all throughout my journey was acceptance.”
“Naturally, there were a number of unanswered questions that greatly bothered me. But I needed to move on. If I did not learn to accept it, then I would not have been able to look for ways to move forward.”
After a two-year medical break, Sohan decided to finish high school. Don Bosco Makati willingly welcomed him back.
Trying to pick up from where he left off was not easy. “It was a change in lifestyle,” he admitted. “I used to work as I saw things, but now I have to work as I hear them.”
Sohan was able to overcome this great challenge with the assistance of non-government organization Resources for the Blind, which provided technology that converted all his textbooks to soft copies to be read aloud by text-to-speech functions.
He graduated from Don Bosco Makati with the St. Dominic Savio Award in recognition for his dedication in completing and acing his secondary education.
When it was time to decide for further studies, the Resources for the Blind recommended De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde for its inclusive approach.
With additional encouragement from family and close friends, Sohan found his calling in the college’s Information Systems Program. “I realized that it was actually more than what I was looking for,” he beamed.
"If I did not learn to accept it, then I would not have been able to look for ways to move forward."
When he first entered Benilde, his friends brought him around the campus. He familiarized himself despite his limited perception.
Shortly thereafter, he completely lost his eyesight, but he can already navigate around the vicinity with his cane.
Sohan believes that he was able to chase his dream with the backing from his family, friends, and professors who always ensured he was never behind in the lessons. “I even had a mentor who personally met me once to twice a week to check how I was doing in class,” he shared.
“Fully losing my eyesight was a really big adjustment from my end, but Benilde attuned quite well with me. The atmosphere was very warm and I was reminded once again that inclusion is in the college’s DNA because I really felt it firsthand.”
In his second year, Sohan started to work as the web developer for the Student Publication Office, which automatically granted him 50 percent scholarship plus an opportunity to enhance his skills in the field.
Sohan and friends Mark Christian Yu and Anna Alexandra Nery then conceptualized and created SOHAN, a smart navigation app designed to assist the visually impaired.
SOHAN is composed of three platforms: a mobile app that sets and reads the destination, a wearable device that follows unique patterns of vibrations for instructions, and a web app that allows the guardians to check the current location.
It features chat messaging and emergency alerts for easier connectivity. The team has completed the prototype and is currently working on the official release to ensure the safety of the probable users.
His devotion and passion led him to be a consistent Dean’s Lister. He graduated with Magna Cum Laude honors.
Sohan currently works as the Software Engineer of homegrown food mobile app c. He is involved in their family business and is experimenting on a finance-related project with a friend as well.
Today, Sohan can no longer see the colors. He cannot even decipher whether it is day or night. But there is no stopping someone fueled with a desire to learn, explore, and create.
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