Preethika Mathan isn’t your average teenager. Winner of the UNSW Bragg prize 2018 – a competition put forward to recognise excellence in Australian science writing – Preethika won the judges’ hearts and minds with her piece titled “i-Care”. In her essay she wrote about how technology could drastically improve the lives of people living with a disability. But sadly, for most, this is not an option.
This topic was personal for Preethika, who has a brother on the autism spectrum.
“Throughout the essay I kept asking myself what technologies my brother would find useful and how I could make them,” she says.
Even though her family are able to somewhat cater to her brother’s disability through technology options available, most of it is not affordable and there aren’t many options.
“Already we use technology as a form of therapy and a way to teach him new skills, but for many, these technologies aren’t affordable. Furthermore, there aren’t actually many in existence,” Preethika says.
In her 800-word essay – which you can read here – Preethika gives the example of a tablet made for people with severe mobility and speech restrictions, which implements Eye-Gaze technology, so users can manipulate icons with just eye movements. Sounds incredible right? This technology could make life easier for thousands of people – but they currently cost $US24,000. Considering nearly 18% of people with a disability in Australia live in poverty, as Preethika points out, this technology is just not affordable. Her essay goes on to suggest practical ways in which technology could be made affordable and accessible to those who need it most.
How winning the Bragg Prize changed her life
Since winning the UNSW Bragg prize, Preethika has received a lot of media attention, being invited to read her essay on the ABC’s science show and being featured in her local newspaper multiple times. She was also nominated for the Pride of Australia medal – and won!
“This competition has changed my life and it has given me a platform to voice my opinions and advocate for tomorrow. I can’t thank it enough,” she says.
Preethika encourages fellow students to enter the 2019 UNSW Bragg essay competition not only because it offers a platform to express your concerns, but also an opportunity to learn new and important skills.
“We must all utilise every opportunity to become better people, so that we can make the world a better place – because we are tomorrow’s leaders,” she says.
A brighter tomorrow
Even through all the publicity, when asked what the best thing about winning the competition was, Preethika shows humility and passion for helping Australians living with a disability.
“For me, the win wasn’t nearly as important as the fact that because of the amount of media publicity, someone somewhere, heard the message. Someone somewhere, realised that we need more innovation in the disability sector for our tomorrow. And to me and my brother, that is priceless.”
“We must all utilise every opportunity to become better people, so that we can make the world a better place – because we are tomorrow’s leaders.”
Entries for the 2019 UNSW Bragg student prize open 29 April.
Author: STEM Contributor
This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.