Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blind, deaf man uses computer skills to build business, help others

Source Link - Blind, deaf man uses computer skills to build business, help others

By Deborah Kuo CNA staff writer Lu Kuan-liang is like many other young entrepreneurs today, trying to build up his business by aggressively marketing it online.

Unlike most of his counterparts, however, he is hearing and visually impaired, yet he has refused to allow his disabilities hold back his ambitions -- or his desire to help others.

With a special computer for the blind, the highly energetic Lu has operated a massage parlor by vigorously promoting it through its Web site and other channels while at the same time using his skills to help those who help others. Lu, who went completely blind at the age of 6 and became hearing-impaired during his teenage years, headed to Taipei from his hometown in central Taiwan soon after graduating from high school at the age of 18 to start a new life, anticipating that "there are a lot of job and business opportunities in the capital city." Lu and his girlfriend, 25-year-old Shih An-yu, who is also visually impaired, soon set up a massage stand in night markets in the Taipei suburbs of Banciao and Sinjhuang, hoping to drum up business.

They often returned home empty-handed, but undaunted, Lu put to work his Internet knowledge and skill at using computers for the visually impaired that he learned in school, launching the Dab Hand Massage Studio with Shih's help and creating his own blog and a Web site for the studio to market the business.

He also started a community on the PTT Bulletin Board System -- arguably the largest BBS in the world with more than 1.5 million registered users -- to upgrade his operations online and to regularly update information on blind masseurs around the country.

His computer is a device with a talking terminal -- a speech synthesizer that converts text to speech. With hearing aids in both his ears, Lu manages to "read" the text and lines that appear on the display screen by hearing the computer speak.

Over 40,000 people have visited Dab Hand Massage Studio's Web site over the past three years, helping Lu put his name on the map and the studio's business to grow steadily, even during the economic downturn.

Making money, however, is not his only aim.

"While working to earn a living for myself, I also want to help more blind people like me, " he told the Central News Agency during an interview at his home in Sinjhuang.

Despite their young age, Lu and Shih have demonstrated compassion and empathy for the disadvantaged or those who go out of their way to help them.

Via the online bulletin board, they have offered free massages over the past two years to people who donated their receipts to charity. If the number printed on the receipt, or uniform invoice, is selected in a monthly drawing, the holder of the receipt wins a cash prize.

The couple have also visited nursing homes around the country to chat with the elderly and give them massages.

After the devastating Typhoon Morakot that wreaked havoc in southern Taiwan in August, Lu and Shih also offered free massages to volunteers who helped deliver goods to the storm's victims or who traveled to the hardest-hit areas to help clean the environment and take care of evacuees.

They also donated a month of income to help storm survivors rebuild their homes.

"I wasn't able to clean up the environment or deliver relief goods. All I could do is to give massages to my Sinjhuang neighbors who had traveled to southern Taiwan to work as volunteers in flood-affected areas," Lu said.

In July, after reading a report from Lanyu (the Orchid Island) about families who were living below subsistence levels and needed help urgently, Lu headed to a discount mart and spent NT$10,000 (US$313) on 12 cartons of food and daily necessities and mailed them to a church in Lanyu.

"They are the people I want to help, " Lu said. "But currently my higher goal is to help more of my visually impaired compatriots find jobs," he noted.

His strategy is to use his talking terminal to start a "house call" massage service -- hiring unemployed people who can see to transport visually impaired masseurs or masseuses via motorbike to the residences of customers who ordered a massage online.

"The business would benefit both the blind and those who can see," he said. (With reports by H.C. Chen)