The Student of Vision Abie Award honors young women dedicated to creating a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build. This year’s winner is Georgia Tech student Jhillika Kumar.
When Jhillika’s parents brought home an iPad for the first time, they could not have predicted how much it would improve their family’s lives. Accessible technology, for the first time ever, allowed her autistic and nonverbal brother to enjoy his passion for music. It distracted his mind from the physical world of disability. She watched her brother instantly swipe and tap swiftly across the interface. The smile that it brought him is the smile she wants to bring to millions of others with disabilities.
Jhillika’s family experience ignited her passion to advocate for disability rights and a career driven by a mission to create an inclusive world. She is a UX/UI designer, aspiring entrepreneur, and a third-year Georgia Tech student with a desire to improve the lives of the differently abled. She advocates to lift the barriers that exist within technology, design, and even policy, and empowers the largest underserved group by bringing attention to the importance of empathy and mutuality in design.
Knowing the impact that UX Design could make on someone who once couldn’t communicate, Jhillika decided to pursue a focus in computer science and interaction design through Georgia Tech’s undergraduate Computational Media program and Digital Media master’s program. Over the summer of her sophomore year of college, she interned at Disney where she created a short film to raise awareness to the product teams on the capacity that their technology had to empower entire communities of untapped potential, purely through improved accessibility. Expanding on this, Jhillika presented a talk at TEDxGeorgiaTech last fall, where she spoke about the importance of accessibility in the industry.
All of Jhillika’s efforts in this space have come together in her current initiative: an on-campus organization she founded called AxisAbility. In order to augment the capabilities of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, AxisAbility is creating a virtual platform to understand family needs and match them with the technology engineered to directly generate physiological changes in the brain to improve cognitive function.
At the School of Interactive Computing, Jhillika currently works in academia, collaborating with Dr. Gregory Abowd and Ivan Riobo to study how non-speaking autistic individuals could use technology-led therapies and assistive technologies to communicate. The study looks at evaluating cognitive competency through eye-gaze tracking software (retinal movement). This could provide vast insight into their cognitive abilities. Jhillika returned to school to her junior year of college engulfed with the spirit of empathy for the differently abled, and was invited as a speaker at World Information Architecture Day and FutureX Live, as well as Women in XR. Her initiatives won her the Alvin M. Ferst Leadership and Entrepreneur Award for 2019 awarded by Georgia Tech.