Kiran Kaja has a rare form of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP); while most with RP begin losing their vision in their teenage years, Kiran has been blind since birth. Thankfully, Kiran’s parents understood early on that blindness is but one characteristic of an individual and that he was and is fully capable. Blindness did, however, uniquely shape Kiran’s early life, igniting a passion that shaped his career.
Kiran was born and raised in Hyderabad, India where, Kiran remembers that at the time, “they did not have the infrastructure to support blind children.” Kiran’s parents, and the parents of others in the community who were blind, fiercely advocated for the school to teach their children. The school consented. However, without a Teacher for Students with Visual Impairments, Kiran’s own mother learned braille in an effort to teach her son. And with no access to a Perkins Brailler, Kiran recalls using a slate and stylus to write until he was in high school—a slate and stylus he fondly uses on occasion to this day.
What impacted him extensively, however, was the insufficient access he had to information, having read only textbooks, which he says created a hunger, a yearning, to learn more.
“The first full book I read was when I was seventeen. Around that time someone told my parents that they’d seen blind people use computers. One of my uncles had an accountant who was blind and told me about screen reading software; he sent me a copy of Jaws. My parents got me a computer, and it opened my world.” He also received a scanner and learned to scan books. Kiran says “Still, after twenty or so years, I think I’m still catching up on reading!”
Kiran’s career interest was kindled from the years of first operating a computer and scanner and voraciously listening to audiobooks as a “ravenous-for-information” teen. Kiran understood that the experience of acquiring independence and access to information made possible by technology is something that should be available for everyone. “Technology has changed my life, and I want to ensure others with disabilities have the technology they need to be independent and successful. It’s my passion,” he says.
Thus, he began preparing to work in the field. After graduating high school, Kiran received a degree in Business and realized he was most interested in writing code and programming. He counts himself as lucky to merge his interests and his desire to increase accessibility for others into his career.
His first “career position” was for Code Factory working from India. Kiran excitedly recalls writing code for the Windows Mobile Screen Reader. Desiring to work for a larger company, Kiran applied to SAP Labs, a business software company, as they were looking for someone with accessibility experience in their Bangalore office. He eventually led their accessibility testing team. Subsequently, he worked for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), a nonprofit in the UK, followed by ADOBE, developing accessibility standards and guidelines. In 2015 he began working with Google in London, followed by Google in the Bay Area. He was the Google Accessibility Lead for Search, Assistant, and News.
Currently, Kiran is the Accessibility Lead for Instagram. “With my team’s help, we work closely with product teams to make sure they are accessible, effective, and useful for people with disabilities.” He provides technical consulting and support, educates teams on needed accessibility, advocates for accessibility, and ensures accessibility is baked into designs. Kiran also educates the public on the accessibility features of products, as well as creates accessibility tutorials.
Kiran’s desire has been to “make a difference in making sure others with disabilities have the technology they need to be independent,” and he has clearly hit the target.
Learn more about Kiran Kaja, by watching Career Conversations here: