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Engineering Humanity

Engineering HumanityEngineering graduate student Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan is helping keep track of the underrepresented disabled population in India.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.27.10] As an engineer, Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan (G'13) has always seen himself as a catalyst for change. So when the government of India wanted to find a way to help its disabled population, the School of Engineering graduate student accepted the challenge.

Veeraraghavan created the Information System on Human and Health Services, the first online database in India to collect and analyze information on the physically and mentally disabled.

"India has never had an exclusive database for such information, so researchers had no baseline to measure rehabilitation efforts and the government couldn't plan for preventive measures," Veeraraghavan says. "There is a great gap in access to medical resources between the rural and urban sectors, and it is difficult for women and children in rural areas to get the benefits from governmental and welfare programs introduced by non-governmental organizations."

Working under the advisement of Professor Karen Panetta in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering's Simulations Laboratory, Veeraraghavan implemented his system across all 31 districts of the state, collecting information about nine different areas, including family history, background and education. 

"The 2001 census was only able to uncover 1.6 percent of disabled people across the state," he says. "Now, say there is an increase in children born with disabilities after the government survey cycle is complete, the new database will make sure they won't have to wait another five to ten years for the next one to make sure they are counted."

He adds, "The system is available in all post offices, so it is easy for educated youths to get the information and put it in the system for the government to then see, confirm and provide the proper help."

Veeraraghavan graduated from India's Anna University in 2005 and worked for several years in the private sector, where he developed his first initiative, known as the Automated Screening System for Developmental Disorders. The 30-minute screening procedure helps with the early detection of autism in children as young as 18 months. He has since received awards, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Achievement Award.

It was through this effort that Panetta discovered Veeraraghavan's talent.

"I had never owned a passport before," Panetta says with a laugh. "But as the worldwide director of the IEEE Women in Engineering, I was invited to a conference in India, which has 60 to 80 chapters of IEEE alone."

When Veeraraghavan spoke on his initiative, Panetta says she knew she couldn't leave India without him.

"The infrastructure that Tufts can provide will allow him to do what he needs to do," Panetta says. "He has been succeeding in all phases of this project, and having access to the latest and greatest software has been a great help."

Going forward, Veeraraghavan says they are planning to release the program in 24 different local languages for easier access, and also expand to states beyond the original site-Tamil Nadu- with the expectation of helping 60 to 80 million people.

In the past year alone, the program has received nine different awards, from the IEEE outstanding student humanitarian award to the Lions International Association's outstanding humanitarian engineer award. All of the money he has received, Veeraraghavan says has sent back to India to go toward childhood nutrition programs.

"This is what research is all about," says Panetta. "Hopefully this will inspire some of the younger engineers to make the connection between how engineering can benefit humanity."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.


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