Saturday, January 12, 2008

New software for the visually impaired!

Using technology he brought “sight” to hundreds of visually impaired students.

The amazing young Vietnamese man's name is Dang Hoai Phuc, aged 26.

He is the On-net Technical Initiative Project Coordinator, in charge of On-net’s Southeast Asian programs.

Phuc is a lecturer at the Regional Jaws Scripting Development Workshop, which gave IT-for-theblind training to seven IT teachers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
The workshop took place at Sao Mai (Morning Star) School, a school in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) that provides free IT classes to visually impaired people.

Overcoming fate

Phuc lost his sight as a nine-year-old.

After the accident that destroyed his sight, his family sent him to Bung Sang School for visually impaired children in HCMC's District 10.

He learnt to read Braille there, then went to an ordinary school and completed secondary school, high school and entered the English Department at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

In 1999, Phuc was one of the first visually impaired students to take an IT course organized by an Italian charity agency.

In less than a year, Phuc had learnt how to write programs, design web pages, write music and teach IT to children at Bung Sang School.

He became deputy director of Sao Mai Center for the Blind at the age of 22.

So far Phuc and his colleagues, most of whom are also blind, have given free training to more than 500 blind people.

Many of the former students at Sao Mai Center have becometeachers for the blind in such provinces as Tay Ninh, Ben Tre, Dong Nai and An Giang.

In October last year, Phuc was promoted to director of Sao Mai Center.

He has won several awards in Vietnam and abroad.

Phuc said that he took part in the competitions for two reasons: to seek sponsorship for the center's projects and to promote Sao Mai's work to blind people in order to encourage them to take free classes there.

Getting “sight” from the digital world

Phuc realized that there weren't many software programs for blind people.

Most of the existing programs were in English and very expensive.

So he developed a digital speaking-book library and a Vietnamese screen-reading program, which won the Samsung DigitAll Hope in Asia competition.

The screen-reading program can read aloud what's on the screen.

It's especially useful for blind Vietnamese people because other screen-reading programs, such as Jaws and Window-eyes, only read English, French and German.

Even better, it's an open-source program which encourages soft-ware programmers to develop it further.

The program is also useful for blind people overseas because it can be used to read other languages by inputting clusters of sounds.

Phuc and his colleagues believe digital technology can become the eyes of the blind, to help them “see” everyday changes of the world.

“IT can give blind people an opportunity to be equal in society,” Phuc said.

“The digital world does not only bring eye sight to blind people, it but also helps blind people like us have more independent lives and we can make positive contributions to the common good.”

Phuc is not only an IT wizard but also an accomplished musician, able to play drums, violin, guitar and piano.

He has written and recorded a 12-song album Nu Tinh oi that he distributes for free.

Full of enthusiasm, ambition and dynamism, Phuc and his friends at Sao Mai Center have found a way to improve their lives of other blind people.

It was also his enthusiasm for IT that has brought Phuc and his sighted colleague, Thu Trang, together.

They married in 2007.


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