Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First trip to China

I'm now on my first-ever trip to mainland China, thanks to the Hadley School for the Blind twentieth anniversary of their China school. It's unusual for a U.S. nonprofit to have a China branch, but truly amazing that it's been there for twenty years. Hadley's brand of distance education for the blind (and people who care about blind people) has been adapted to focus on teaching of English in China.Hong Kong skylineI've always wanted to have a reason to go to China, but there never was a strong enough reason to go for Benetech. Because of Hadley's reputation, their twentieth anniversary was the nexus for many of the top blindness folks from China to come help them celebrate. Since we're a partner of Hadley's (our goal is to be the school library for their students), Hadley's president, Chuck Young, invited me and other Hadley supporters to accompany him and his staff on this celebratory trip.

We started our visit in Hong Kong, visiting the three main nonprofits there serving the blind.

Blind person in Hong Kong at a PC, typing Braille chords


Our timing was great: we had excellent meetings in all three places. I learned a lot about how blind people deal with Chinese: I thought it would be a difficult language to make accessible. I saw this cool software where you type in using Braille chords the sound of the character you want (first picture) , and then it gives you a list of similar-sounding characters along with a brief description (second picture). For example, chord 'em', 'ee', 'en', and get "mean- to mean", "mean-cheap", "mean-nasty", "mien-face", etc.

After talking about Hadley's work in China, Chuck Young allowed me to address an audience at the university about how Bookshare.org could be used in Hong Kong and China. This helped lead to several great conversations with the different agencies about Bookshare in China and Hong Kong.

Right now, we're obtaining many permissions from publishers to serve an international audience, and we'll have some interesting options for blind and print disabled people in Hong Kong. In addition, Hong Kong passed a copyright exemption just in the last year, and the leaders in Hong Kong are considering how to utilize this new tool. I'm excited about working with them, and hope it leads to doing a lot more in Hong Kong and in mainland China. Of course, the Bookshare.org way is to provide a path to people helping each other: as technologists we're enablers. I found the people here eager to get to work. I guess that's a Hong Kong characteristic!

Old man and wife in a rowboat with umbrella
Of course, we were able to squeeze in a little sightseeing around Hong Kong, including a visit to the Aberdeen Harbor and catching the view from Victoria Peak. It's impressive what people in Hong Kong have done with their tiny patch of China.

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