I was buying fried rice at a neighborhood food stall in the Philippines when I was gunned down.
It was November 2003. I went from a man to a cowering little boy.
The first bullet went through my chest. After a blink of a second, a bullet went through my head from a gun poked straight at my left temple.
Left totally blind and without possibility of treatment, I was broken.
I badly wanted to regain what I had lost. A month after checking out of the hospital, I did nothing but wait for a miracle.
Coping with Total Blindness
There will be changes, but this doesn’t mean everything just took a turn for the worst. A good friend introduced me to JAWS, a screen reader.
Being quite savvy with computer hardware and software myself, I was browsing the Internet and creating a Friendster account in no time.
I needed to continue with my studies at UP. Learning about UP’s virtual learning system, I enrolled.
Taking up all the units I was lacking from my science degree in mathematics, I graduated based on credited units at UP with a liberal arts degree in Political Science last Oct, 2005.
Having a wife and a 3-year old daughter, I needed a job. Hearing about a medical transcription course being offered by a computer school for the blind, I went to ATRIEV last Oct, 2005.
ATRIEV and the Blind Community
Having no money to take up the medical transcription course, I volunteered as an assistant website developer at Atriev in exchange for a discount. Working on the Atriev website while taking up medical transcription classes, I was introduced to the blind community.
After a few weeks, I was out with a pair of dark sunglasses and a cane. I knew I was totally blind a couple of years back, but after a few weeks at ATRIEV, I seemed to walk the walk and talk the talk – in a real blind man’s way.
Medical transcription wasn’t for me. In order to excel in this field, I needed a more intensive medical background than my high school biology classes and my previous trips to the hospital. The medical transcription course wasn’t enough at least for me.
I needed to recalculate my options and draft something geared towards my strengths. I sent my CV via email to several customer support companies. They all phoned me up, and asked me to go to their office for an interview and an exam. I went with my wife.
For every customer support company we went to, they asked me to go to their HR office. They told me their exams weren’t accessible to blind people. Before going to every customer support company, I explicitly told them over the phone that I was totally blind.
Their exams were to be taken on a computer. I told them I had a software application that can allow me to access the exams on the computer, and they told me they couldn’t install it. I told them the installation CD was in my bag, and I could install it with my eyes closed – of course, pun was intended by all means.
They told me they didn’t have the hardware to support my software, and I told them I had a headset in my bag, and that was all I needed to make a mid-end computer accessible to me. When they finally told me that they’d just call me up as soon as they have everything sorted out, I stepped back. My wife was fuming mad. I told her it was better that way since they all knew they had to think of blind people in the near future.
After a couple of months, I went into seclusion. By the way, the phone calls never came.
A Blind Writer
On the last day of RBI’s pre-employment training program, their employment officer took our CVs and distributed it to potential employers. 3 days thereafter, Intelligraph called me in for an exam and a job interview. The company is a tri-media service provider. Barely a week after attending RBI’s pre-employment training program, I had a job as a writer.
The Business Model
While working at Intelligraph as a writer for a couple of months, I had a plan. Carefully studying the marketing and production systems of the top companies in the outsourcing industry, I reckoned I could start small in the same industry but with a different business model. Admiring my former boss’ business and marketing skills, I chose a niche he avoided – the IT industry.
I turned my adversity into an opportunity. Grayscale started out without any capital investment other than time, a couple of computers, an Internet connection, and a place that also acted as our home. It started out last Sept. 2006 with manpower resources worth 4 people – me, my wife, a young UP professor based in Bicol, and a college student in India.
After several days, Grayscale had acquired the services of a doctor based in India and a lawyer living in Davao. After a couple of weeks, Grayscale commissioned the services of a small research and writing firm in India populated by 6 people and a multimedia outfit in South Africa manned by 7 people. There had been losses in manpower resources because of then developing managerial, production, and quality assurance systems, but these are the normal growing pains faced by most emerging companies.
It was a misfortune that brought about good opportunities. Today, Grayscale has 7 production departments collectively worth 75 people, 3 websites, a virtual office with a document management system developed by a Liverpool-based company, 7 long-term contracts in which 2 are with prominent software security companies, and substantial plans to expand with services for a few specialized niches in the IT industry. Looking back, I was given a lemon in life, and I turned it into lemonade, so let’s all have a drink!
Grayscale’s Social Responsibility
Grayscale is a company that incorporates equal opportunities on its hiring processes. Today, 14 blind people (including myself) and 5 wheelchair-bound individuals are presently working as writers, researchers, validators, and administrative staff for Grayscale. 8 wheelchair-bound people and a young lady afflicted with cerebral palsy have recently started working for Grayscale as writers, researchers, editors, and administrative staff for a new long-term account. A young blind man and 4 wheelchair-bound individuals are currently applying as writers for Grayscale under the new account.
Grayscale continues to provide support for RBI’s recent 1-week writing courses. This initiative was launched last Dec 2006 at the CICT building, and another writing course followed a couple of months later. Early March 2008, RBI and a trainee who was part of the 1st batch of participants facilitated another 1-week writing course in Cebu. Another 1-week writing course is slated after the next couple of months in Davao – this time a participant of the Cebu 1-week training course will facilitate the program.
Grayscale may not be something big, but it’s a start. This story is also proof that we don’t have to give people fish nor do we only have to teach them how to fish to a certain extent. Rather, we should revolutionize the fishing industry and start from there.
Publish with the kind permission of Marx Melencio
Listed below are some of his recognitions and appearances:
1. Recognized as a success story in 2015 by the World Blind Union (WBU) and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB): Watch the video here
2. His keynote address at the 2015 ICT Forum on
Creative Innovation in Accessible Technology of Resources for the
Blind in the Philippines: Watch the video here
3. He was recognized by the Philippine Center
for Entrepreneurship, which is headed by presidential consultant on
business and entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion III, as one of the top
25 technopreneurs of the Philippines last year (2014), and represented
our country about the role of ICT and business in empowering persons
with disabilities around the world in a United Nations conference : Watch the video here
4. His start-up story, which was produced by the Asia Pacific Development Center on Disability of the United Nations: Watch the video here