Episode 25 Interview with Tanveer Syed

In this episode of Space Coast Stories, I sit down for a chat with Tanveer Syed, a Ph.D. student at Florida Tech. Tanveer is pursuing a Doctorate in Science Education.

Tanveer is a legally blind student who has a BSC Honors Degree in Human Physiology from the University of Leeds, an MSC in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Bradford, and a Master’s of Arts in Education and Human Development from George Washington University right here in the United States.

He has always been interested in science and wants to make science education more inclusive, and plans on studying how technology can be used to help visually impaired students learn.

Listen to My Interview with Tanveer Syed

Links and Images from My Interview with Tanveer Syed

During this interview, Tanveer discussed resources. The links are here.

National Federation of the Blind

American Foundation for the Blind

Tanveer’s YouTube Video A Day In the Life of an International Disabled Student

Takeaways from My Interview with Tanveer Syed

I loved the way Tanveer approaches learning and understand that we don’t all learn the same way. His goals surrounding learning are designed to be inclusive and will benefit many learners, including the visually impaired.

Complete Transcript of My Interview with Tanveer Syed

Kim:                             00:01                You’re listening to Space Coast Stories, a podcast with interviews and stories from people and businesses on Florida’s Space Coast. I’m your host, Kim Shivler. Thanks for joining me.

Kim:                             00:14                Hey everybody on the Space Coast. Welcome back to Space Coast Stories. I’m your host, Kim Shivler and today I have a really exciting guest. This is the first time on the show that I’m actually interviewing a Ph.D. student here at Florida Institute of Technology. Also lately going as Florida Tech quite often, and this is going to be interesting because it’s something I’m here to learn too, just like I know that you are.

Kim:                             00:45                I’m going to be speaking to Tanveer Syed. He is a legally blind Ph.D. student who is working on a doctorate degree in science education. He actually has a BSC Honors Degree in Human Physiology from the University of Leeds, an MSC in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Bradford, which I had to learn is also in England just as Leeds is and a Master’s of Arts in Education and Human Development from George Washington University right here in the United States. It’s in Washington DC. He was born and raised in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi and his nationality is actually Bangladeshi. So he’s come by a lot of hops to visit us today and talk about what is interesting him for his Ph.D. Program and how he developed that interest. Welcome Tanveer.

Tanveer:                       01:44                Thank you for having me.

Kim:                             01:45                So let’s jump right into that. What are you looking to study in this page of program?

Tanveer:                       01:52                I’ve always been a science person as you can see the journey I have taken actually because I actually wanted to go into medicine initially, but you know, there’s, you know, there’s all some perceptions with uh, vision impaired doctors. So I wanted to do the next best thing. So I wanted to teach science more specifically biology. So when I was doing my education in the George Washington University, it actually dawned upon me that I perhaps require a bit more knowledge to actually master the art of teaching science because there are so many ways you can actually teach science and not all of them are as equally as effective at others, but you have to keep all of them in mind because some work better for different types of students than the others. So I started my pursuit of Ph.D. in science education over here. However, once I’ve actually arrived here and opportunity dawned upon me whilst I was just about to take one of my comprehensive exams, in fact was perhaps the last week of our prior semester.

Tanveer:                       02:56                It involved the current technology that it for science education and I actually saw an opportunity that perhaps this technology could be modified to actually benefit those with visual impairments in science education because I actually haven’t thought about it until that point, but I’ve noticed that visually impaired people have little to no representation in the hard sciences and it is so overwhelmingly obvious that almost everywhere I have gone, a lot of people have told me, you are the first visually impaired person I have taught. This was actually very surprising to me. The first visually impaired person you have taught is an international student in such an established Institute of Academia. Okay. There’s definitely a deficiency. So right now my motivation is to perhaps ameliorate this situation of such a lack of representation of visual visually impaired people in science education by perhaps, you know, working towards a solution to the problem.

Kim:                             04:04                That is a lot to do and yet that’s what PhDs are about as far as finding that niche that no one’s done before and making that breakthrough.

Tanveer:                       04:16                Yes, it has to be done. Even if there is a lot the mountain to climb, like forgive the uh, the analogy given that I’m legally blind, but you know, the summit of the mountain does not come close to you just by staring at it. You know, you have to make a, you have to make vertical ground.

Kim:                             04:33                Absolutely. And I loved what you pointed out about, there are multiple ways to teach science as as there are, in other, we’re speaking specifically of science here, but there are in all fields and of course not everybody learns the same. You pointed that out regardless of whether they’re sited or not. We all have some different learning. I love that you’re pulling in that concept of let’s embrace different learning. I certainly can wish that some of my teachers had embraced different types of learning for all students because it was kind of that if you didn’t get it the way we decided to teach it, oh, well for you and I love that you’re looking at this, how can we incorporate these really leading edge technologies to get through to people?

Tanveer:                       05:25                Because technology is like, it’s not going anywhere. So academia and education has to move along with the date has to be locked, like, you know, in like in sync with the current developments of technology. Otherwise like, you know, once they fall behind more and more, uh, students will actually resort to what they find more reliable and more accessible and like, and more, even more relatable, you know, based on their needs, know they’ll tend more towards that, such as, let’s say you many different, um, uh, online academy that are online schools that are, you use the judiciously. I might add multimedia to actually educate. So they might tend a bit more into that if they don’t find that in the classroom. And if the students perceive that, you know, perhaps some of the classroom teaching methods are too archaic.

Kim:                             06:17                Absolutely. So when you look at these technologies and of course one of the things we’re talking about today is just where you’re going, uh, to the audience. We will be circling back later in the fall after Tanveer meets with his team and, and further finalize what this Ph.D. Research is going to look like. But for right now as you’re getting started, what technology is, there’s something that just jumps out where you really see, I think this is the path that’s going to make a huge breakthrough.

Tanveer:                       06:50                It is a virtual reality because virtual reality, this is something I’ve found out through research. It has been around for awhile, and forgive me if I’m slightly mistaken, like obviously like I can’t know everything under the sky about a certain subject, but you know, I try, I try as much as I can. I can remember a technology that has been around for actually since the 50’s or like you know some sometime in the 50’s then it has manifested itself in many versions and improved its capabilities in many ways over the decades. It has rarely ever been adapted for people with visual impairments where if you actually think about it, let’s say in a specific field like in science education where a lot of the visually impaired people are more skeptical about science because of some of the lab work involved, you know, due to a health and safety hazards and whatnot.

Tanveer:                       07:51                Almost all of them are eliminated in a virtual world. It thought of baffled me that no one actually thought about adapting like you know, third of high immersion virtual reality for people who could benefit the most from this who could actually have an opportunity to learn like, you know, using hands-on guided practice. That is basically my, my motivation on continuing my, Ph.D. that is actually what I want to accomplish. That we are still working on the, you know, on the details of what specifically we’re going to do. But you know, that is the general direction

Kim:                             08:27                And for those of us who maybe have very limited experience with virtual reality, I am one of those or only think of, for example, flight simulators as far as training, what is as opposed to a video game that I think a lot of people understand virtual reality around or you know, the advertisements you see for VR roller coasters and things. How do you actually use VR in an education standpoint? Could you just a little bit about what that would look like to someone?

Tanveer:                       08:58                Certainly VR actually can be used in many types of settings. The virtual reality, basically it surrounds you with a simulated world. Now that simulated world could be anything including let’s say perhaps in environmental sciences it can basically simulate an environmental location or like you know, ecological location. Like you know, let’s say you know the Serengeti or the Amazon and through observation of that simulation you can actually learn a lot more than just reading from textbooks and whatnot. The current versions of of virtual reality also give you the opportunity to interact with the simulation. This is where it’s not just watching a video through a helmet. Now this is a the era where you can actually manipulate the, your simulated environment. Once you can manipulate your simulated environment, you can actually learn by doing and like performing a lot of actions and seeing what those actions will result in.

Tanveer:                       10:02                If that scenario, let’s say, um, a virtual science lab, it could be presented to many students who let’s say in a school perhaps cannot afford such expensive equipment and afford such vast amounts of chemicals that needs replenishing. I would say, you know, virtual reality has actually a lot of potential.

Kim:                             10:22                Sounds like it, and I wanted to pick up on, something you mentioned. It’s not just watching a video and I think a lot of times people just think of that. So then you’re thinking, okay, how does this help with a visually impaired person? Is there a tactile or touch aspect of this? When you talk about manipulating your environment is, is there a piece of that that that works?

Tanveer:                       10:44                Theoretically, yes. Because the controllers that are provided to you to actually manipulate that environment actually has a lot of vibe, vibrating features through variations of vibrations and like you know, other, uh, haptic enhancements, such developments and such facilities for people who are like completely blind who rely much more on touch, could be made.

Tanveer:                       11:10                But my approach is actually geared towards almost all type of visual impairments, which actually the majority of them are, they still have some vision because a, apparently according to the World Health Organization latest data, it is actually suggested that only about 30 million people are actually fully blind or considered fully blind, who have a visual acuity of three over 60 or below. The people above that it makes up around 217 million around the world. They have a visual acuity of six over 18 to three over 60. So they have some vision, they’re basically considered moderate to severely visually impaired, but they do have some functional vision. So my approach is basically to all those to have functional vision, to actually help them make the most use out of their functional vision. And this actually ties back in to how the human brain is actually a wired.

Kim:                             12:09                Can you explain on that a little more? That sounds interesting.

Tanveer:                       12:11                Of course the human beings and almost all sentient beings, they actually, lot of times they tend to perceive the world much more by sight than by touch or hearing. It is pretty much the same case with humans. If you look at the human cognitive architecture, so if human beings are evolved to acquire information in such a way doing something completely the opposite of this, it will not lead to the equivalent results. I can give you an example. Let’s say the fastest reading speed that I’ve come across is around a thousand words per minute. The Fastest Braille reading speed however, is around 400 words. So the fact that there is such a large discrepancy that sort of tells you that both modes of receiving information is actually not the same. I’m just trying to basically help improve the current technology that is a bit more organic. That feels a bit more organic to people who have some vision. At least.

Kim:                             13:20                That’s wonderful and I, that at least for me is some good information. I think for many of us we don’t think that there is a scale there. We think of visually impaired as this person can’t see at all. They’re blind. We don’t realize that so many people, I had no idea that those numbers who people can see some things and can then utilize that if helped to learn better. And it sounds like that kind of where you’re going with this.

Tanveer:                       13:50                One of the biggest problems of the current system is actually the perception of it. It is. Even in research, and this actually baffled me a lot and even in research, they’ve almost tend to always take a dichotomous approach. You, you either can see or you need to basically feel your way around the entirety of science, which is not only not practical, but it actually requires a, it requires a lot more work by the students and the teachers requires a lot more work and and training by the teachers and the overall extra work sometimes feel so overburdening to visually impaired students.

Speaker 3:                    14:29                They just feel demotivated. They said, okay, you know what, it’s too much work. And I don’t see any visually impaired scientists around. So you know, I guess it’s not worth it. And it sounds like we need some to step into that role. A visually impaired scientist. Oh my God, I had to search and search and search. I found one and I’m like, why is this person not famous and why? I don’t know. Visually impaired people are also human beings who are vicarious learners to a large degree. Like this is instilled in instilled in humans. Even from like, you know, early childhood. You know, they look at their parents and learn. They look at other people doing things, unlearned. They look at their teachers and learn like how the teacher writes, how the teacher talks. They look at their friends and learn. So if they can find relate-ability with anyone and see similar conditions in other people like themselves, the chances are they will learn a bit more. Even visually impaired people. We need our heroes and we need our heroes, heroines and we need our champions, if you will.

Kim:                             15:33                Absolutely. I’m with you. We all need that. We need that person who’s like us and we can say, yes, they did it, I can do it. Yeah.

Tanveer:                       15:41                Yes. Those examples of success need to be there to actually cause a lot of positive motivation because I’ve also heard this that apparently people who are visually impaired are actually, they’re more prone to actually going into severe depression and like, you know, perhaps even committing suicide. But that’s an anecdotal, uh, encounter that I’ve, that I’ve made just like a few months ago.

Kim:                             16:03                Okay. So we don’t have links to that. As far as the numbers?

Tanveer:                       16:06                I haven’t yet researched this strongly, but there are some, there are some research papers that are out there that actually indicate that visually impaired people who don’t use assistive technology or who cannot function properly in the current, in the current system there, they’re actually much more prone to being depressed.

Kim:                             16:27                And I, I picked up on that. It makes sense if I picked up on that, that they’re not using any help. It sounds like any assistive technology, any help there?

Tanveer:                       16:36                Yes. Some of them, they’re actually a bit too old to actually uh, learn a different types of technology. For example, this Braille, the Braille approach. You might be surprised to know that a vast majority of people who are visually impaired are non Braille readers. I’m pretty sure the NFB and the AFB websites actually make citations of this, but according to their data, what they have acquired from the American printing house for the blind, only 8% are Braille readers. So 92% are non Braille readers. And for a person, let’s say some people who lose their vision in like middle age or late in their lives to learn completely inorganic language like Braille because Braille or something you don’t learn by sound or by speaking Braille is something you learn by touch. To learn a completely different language at that point of psychological development is next to impossible.

Kim:                             17:30                And what you said there, and it’s interesting because I know a few other visually impaired people who also don’t read, who don’t read Braille, don’t use Braille. And that brought up to me that in your video and to the audience, we’re going to put a link to a video where they featured Tanveer uh, for, uh, American disabilities, uh, videos from youtube. And you mentioned in that that in an elevator they had Braille but they also had raised numbers for the floors. So would that be there to help those people that don’t understand Braille but could feel that?

Tanveer:                       18:07                Exactly. That. And that is in a nutshell, my approach and this is something I’ve learned pretty well from my previous university. It’s called a universal design that you have to anticipate that people you will interact with and people who will use your facilities will have different levels of abilities. So let’s say in that video, the elevator did not only had a braille feature, they had a braille feature and or tactile feature and an audio feature. Though that type of system is usable by various types of people. Not only with with like, you know, visual impairments or like even people even who are, who are hearing impaired. Like, I don’t know if you’ve seen the video though. The buttons actually light up.

Kim:                             18:49                Yes. Excellent. There. This has been so much good information and I really appreciate having you here with me today. Are there any last thoughts before we sign off?

Tanveer:                       19:00                Yes, there is one, like I mentioned before, my approach was universal, you know, you know, to make the design a bit more universal, a bit more inclusive instead of this specific design and specific education sort of approaches. Just because you’re, you have a disability. Okay. Like, you know, most likely you have to, you have to sit separately. You have to learn separately. You know, maybe you have to be even assessed separately though, you know, that sort of approach does not help. Efforts must be made to, to actually include them within the like, you know, general education and even general employment because e uh, even if you see, uh, that said the employment statistic for people who are visually impaired, they’re like, uh, all the data I’m getting, they’re repeating this number that over 70% are either unemployed or underemployed. In a world where we have all these advocacy advocacy groups as statistic, like over 70% of visually impaired people are unemployed or underemployed, whether it allowed to exist and apparently like you know people, people with autism, the numbers are even worse.

Tanveer:                       20:02                It’s like 85% are like, you know they don’t have employment or don’t have full time employment. You have to have a more universal approach and anticipate that your employees, you know will have different abilities. Now in terms of technology development, I really do have to mention this. It has always been, this is the thing that depressed me the most. It has always been develop the technology for the normally able people first. Then if we have the time we will develop, we will adapt that for the visually impaired people. This is one of the biggest reasons why the development for all services and facility for the visually impaired people has been so slow because we are always taught as an afterthought. Our needs are always, you know, given secondary or even tertiary priority like other things, some other type of people’s needs a much more important, you know, we’ll think about the disabled people litter first, let’s you know, fix it for the normal people.

Kim:                             20:59                Well I see hope in what you’re doing then because you are starting with the, we’re going to work on this and yet we’re going to do it in an all inclusive way. We’re not going to say, okay, you all have to learn exactly this way because now we’re going to lump everyone visually impaired into just one learning area either because that’s not right. I loved what you said about underemployed. Those of you listening, we will be coming back to this with some future episodes because one of the things we want to point out is particularly with that underemployed is don’t make assumptions as to what someone cannot do based on what you see as their disability.

Tanveer:                       21:43                Okay. I’ll just like to mention one more thing because um, I do not want to leave these people out. My hard work and determination it actually, I’ve learned a lot from my parents and from my teachers or specifically because like authority from my, my grade school teachers, they did not actually know exactly the system to properly educate me, but they by God they tried almost everything that they could to educate, educate me, and this is like a even let’s say, you know, University of Leeds, the University of Bradford, they really tried and even in George Washington University, like I don’t know if I’m allowed to say names, but one, one of my advisors, this person told me something after I got accepted for a phd, this person told me something I will not forget for a very long time perhaps I will never forget when I said that I never like, I was so excited.

Tanveer:                       22:39                I said, I never thought I was good enough for a Ph.D. This person said, that’s funny because the first few times I’ve interacted with you, I’ve seen Ph.D. Written all over you. So even certain words like death, words of encouragement, this can go such a long way. If the person is competent enough and if the instructors see it, even if they’re disabled, this words of encouragement actually drive them much more forward and much more harder to actually accomplish their goals and to break new grounds because ultimately I believe this is where what needs to happen. We need to break new grounds to actually make significant progress and equalize those a rather depressing statistics a little bit.

Kim:                             23:22                Those are just beautiful thoughts and I appreciate it and I think let’s make that a challenge to everybody. Look for in whoever you’re working with, look for those abilities that maybe they don’t see or that maybe they have doubts and give that encouragement. Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great way to go about our day. I want to thank you again for being with me today.

Tanveer:                       23:44                Oh, thank you for this podcast, because everything needs to be done. Even the little bits are even the large bits, everything needs to be done to raise awareness. So you’re doing a very big help to me and and like what I’m trying to accomplish. So thank you for bringing this.

Kim:                             24:01                You’re welcome. And we will be back in the future with Tanveer. I am really looking forward to tracking him and tracking his progress as he goes through this Ph.D.. For those of you joining us, as you know, I’m your host Kim Shivler. We’ll be back next time with another story here on Florida’s Space Coast. I’ll see you then. Bye.

Kim:                             24:28                Join us next time for another episode of Space Coast Stories. You can find the show notes and other information at SpaceCoastStories.com. The views of the guests on this show are their own and don’t necessarily represent the views of the show owners, host or company. Thanks for listening to Space Coast Stories.

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