As life throws many challenges, it makes it even harder to face it with some form of disability, especially for those who live visually impaired. However, disability doesn’t mean hardship and many have proven to be inspirations to live life fully and be successful despite their disabilities.
One of them, Kibrom Ghebreab, is here with us today. Kibrom is successful in his education and career. He came up with improved jaws software (assistive software, screen reader) to help address the challenges members of the Society of visually-impaired Eritreans face every day. Many Eritreans living with blindness lack sufficient supply of the assistive technologies that cause them to depend on family and friends. Kibrom improved the screen reader technology to narrate the native language which puts on great help for the users.
- -Thank you for making the time, Kibrom. Would you please share with our readers something about yourself?
It is a pleasure to be here. I was born in the Southern Region, in a village called Guila. After suffering from blindness due to measles, I joined the Abraha Bahta School for the Blind in Asmara. Joining Abraha Bahta was what gave me the bases for my success. I then went to a high school that wasn’t for the blind, which was a bit challenging at the time before I took my matriculation exam that turned out to be a success. I joined Asmara University with a 3.2 grade point and studied history. I am currently working at the Research and Documentation Center.
- -If you don’t mind, I would like to take you back to your childhood years at Abraha Bahta….
It was a place where we all created our own world. We played like the kids with sight and nothing was challenging for us. We participated in various activities and those activities made us grow closer. It was an environment that made us forget our challenges and concentrate on the future. The school meant the world to us. I don’t recall any kind of impediments as we were supplied with brails to write and read.
I am going to be honest; it was a bit difficult when we had to go to a different high school with the sighted students at the beginning. Although the reason for us to join an all-sighted high school was for a good cause. It was simply meant to help us socialize in the real world; we had to learn how to deal with challenges financially and physically. It was hard to us to cope with the students since the way we took notes was different. We had to find students to read out for us so that we could write with brail. We also had the difficulties of finding reference books, which wasn’t a problem when we were in Abraha Bahta. All in all, life became a little bit hard by the time we were out of Abraha Bahta. However, I consider myself so lucky that I belong to an ever-giving society. Our society has given us all the help and assistance we need unconditionally. For instance, when I joined the University, I had all the help I could ever need from everyone. I even managed to get life-time friends out of Asmara University. My success is the outcome of everyone who stood by me during my academic years.
- -The new improved Jaws software, what is it for and what stirred you to work on it?
It is software that reads what is on computer screen. It was created by a big company called Freedom Scientific. It is an important assistive technology which helps a visually-impaired person to use the computer. I started thinking about improving the software when it became difficult for me to prepare my reports and documents in Tigrigna. Even though I didn’t have the knowledge on how to create computer software, I was determined to come up with it, which I believed would be a great help for the users.
- -How were you able to get in to designing software and succeed though by training you are a historian and are now working as a researcher?
If there is anything I learned from this experience, it is that anything is possible if you are keen on it. From the start, I was interested in and amazingly good at math. It was my favorite subject. However, since there aren’t enough educational supplies for the blind in every field, it puts a limit to how many fields we choose to get in to. That is one of the few regrets I have, which is not being able to join the Maths department. So, since software designing is all about coding and numbering it wasn’t that much challenging. I read about basic computer language from different sources and had additional knowledge and ideas about software from the inclusive planet.com, a website administrated by Indian blind professionals. This group has given me enough ideas and information about how to write scripts and develop applications.
Regarding the making process, I was able to come up with codes that can dictate a Tigrigna language combined with English letters, making them sound a lot closer to geez pronunciation. I tried to find the right Hexodesimal value code for every geez letter. Of course it had its small difficulties such as finding an English letter for every geez one since there are almost 60 geez letters and only 26 English alphabets. That being said, the software surely has limitations such as the fact that some sounds are not very well pronounced. Although such sounds are not perfectly pronounced, they are still very well understood.
- -What was the repose you got from the users?
This software is going to maximize the professional ability of visually-impaired people. It is certainly going to make things easier and understandable for them since it is going to be in their native language. And the response I got from them was great.
- -Anything you would like to say before we part, Kibrom?
I would like to thank the Research and Documentation Center for opening many opportunities for me. I would also like to pass on my gratitude to Mr. Zemhret Yohanes for giving me all the help I needed, material-wise to help me finish my project. I would also like to thank the Eritrean Hearing and Vision Impairment Association in USA for all their support. Most of all, I don’t have enough words for my wife who has been there for me and has been like my back in my life. Thank you all for everything.