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Blind Inventor Helps Make History in Korean Law

Posted October. 24, 2008 08:35,   


The first blind Korean to pass the law bar, Choi Yeong, 27, owes his success to Kim Jeong-ho, who is also blind.

Kim helped Choi study a huge amount of law materials with ears instead of eyes. Kim developed “Screen Reader,” a program which transforms Korean text on a computer screen into voice.

At Hasang Rehabilitation Center in Seoul yesterday, Kim said, “I’m so proud of Yeong for overcoming his challenges and giving it a try.”

The two met in May 2000 while Kim was preparing for a thesis with Choi’s help. Blind since birth, Kim was seeking someone who could read materials for his thesis preparation for his master’s in social welfare studies at Seoul National University.

A rehabilitation center introduced Kim to Choi, who was a first-year law student at the university. After Choi entered college, however, his vision deteriorated drastically after he contracted retinitis pigmentosa. Out of fear, he decided to learn how to live as a blind person through volunteering.

Despite his poor vision, Choi read books to Kim, who became his mentor. “We grew closer than brothers, sharing our suffering that even our families couldn’t understand,” Kim said.

Watching Choi going for the law bar despite his blindness, Kim said, “I wanted to be his eyes as he did for me.”

Kim then developed “Screen Reader,” a program for the visually impaired and the result of three years of work at a start-up company he formed with three other blind people after receiving his master’s.

The program enabled the blind to take the bar. Kim installed the program at the test site a day before Choi took the test. Choi told Kim the good news first Tuesday when the bar results came out.

A happy Kim said, “Yeong showed the world that the blind have the opportunity to succeed.”

Screen Reader has helped expand the blind access information, though it still has limitations, Kim said. The program requires transforming a book into a Korean text file, but the process is plagued with copyright problems. Turning test materials page by page into a text file costs a huge amount of money.

Kim also developed a “voice Braille program” to address copyright problems in the process of transforming text files. He will give the program to the National Library of Korea in December.

“Visual challenges lead to information challenges, and this leads to poverty for the disabled,” he said. “I had to give up a lot because I was disabled. But we can turn numerous impossibilities into possibilities with the help of IT technology.”

neo@donga.com jhk85@donga.com