Looking for a level playing field
The future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.
The cloud clears as you enter it.
Guo Wancheng, 25, keyed in this quote in Chinese on his desktop and explained where he got it from－West with the Night, a 1942 memoir by Beryl Markham－and how inspiring it is for him. He used to work as an editor for a WeChat public account, writing articles on how to get the latest information about postgraduate admissions. He is a voracious reader, quoting extensively from books he has read. He now works part time at Golden Cane, a Beijing-based program being run by the Soundwave Impairment Social Service Center that is aimed at training the visually impaired to acquire the skills necessary to lead normal lives.
He should know, for he is visually impaired himself. He was born with a critical eye condition and, despite a surgery, lost his eyesight by the time he was 10. However, that didn't stop him from completing his higher education, majoring in music from Beijing Union University, and getting an editing job soon after graduation.
Makeup without seeing face
Golden Cane is now organizing a 17-day training workshop for the visually impaired that started on Sept 10, Teachers' Day. They are imparting six courses in all, the first four dealing in improving visually impaired persons' working and living skills. By keying in the quote, Guo was showing how with the help of a screen-reading software, even visually impaired people can work on a desktop.
Pressing the Alt+Tab keys, he shuffled between different windows. Whenever he opened a new window, the software read the content on the page out loudly. "I can also type as fast as any other person," he said, before tapping away on the keyboard, keying in another quote. Meanwhile, Yang Yongquan, whose team developed this software, was teaching others to use it in the classroom.
At the workshop, the visually impaired are also being taught how to use smartphones, how to cook and how to apply makeup. They use the smartphones in the same manner they use computers, the screen-reading software helping them out.
Those attending the workshop had a lot to complain about in the cooking section. They said the cooking devices sold in the market are not that user-friendly. The rice cookers meant for the visually impaired just have Braille characters on the buttons; nobody bothered to take into account the actual constraints faced by the visually impaired. For example, some visually impaired persons wish the buttons were placed in such a way that their hands didn't get singed while using the cooker.
"Some enterprises make these utensils just for show," said a volunteer named Tiger.
In contrast, they were all laughing in the makeup section. Xiao Jia, visually impaired herself, was teaching them how to apply makeup on their faces, even though they cannot see themselves. "So what if we cannot see? We can still look good, can't we?" she asked.
Xiao lost her eyesight when she was 14. She then dropped out of school. After doing nothing for a while, she began learning how to apply makeup, inventing special techniques of applying it by touching certain points on the face. Now she can apply makeup on herself as well as on her customers.
"It is a good skill to acquire," she said.
There is a fifth course teaching the visually impaired how to walk outside independently, without depending on anybody. Golden Cane director Yang Qingfeng, who was born visually impaired himself, believes this course is more about building courage than about imparting any skills. "Many of the visually impaired people had never walked on their own until they met us," said Yang, with a sense of pride in what he was helping many achieve.
And then there is the psychological construction course, which is specifically for those who weren't born visually impaired but lost their eyesight at some point in life. "Compared with those born visually impaired, those who lose eyesight later in life find it hard to come to terms with it," said Yu Suyi, a staff member at Golden Cane. They generally hold sessions for these people to share their stories and offer them psychological counseling.