The History of Windows Light

 

The Developer, Bennet Ha who is himself a totally blind person since the age of two, released the first version of Windows Light as a screen reading tool for the visually impaired in 2004.  This was then a primitive version, being crash prone, not very user-friendly and  with only the most basic screen reading functionalities.  Still, it was a better than none option for those visually impaired persons who had saved just enough to buy a PC for themselves but could not afford to pay an extra sum for a commercially available screen reader which often costed as much as, if not more than, what they had already spent.

 

The Developer started to learn using the PC and computer programing back in the late 1980’s.  He foresaw, and later experienced, the revolutionary changes that the advent  and rapid development of information technology was bringing to the way people live, communicate, study and work.  To the visually impaired, this poses either a serious threat or a golden opportunity, depending on whether they can master the use of the computer to meet the new challenges.  On the one hand, the wide use of computing devices and the internet in the creation, storage, retrieval and communication of information has opened up a “digital divide” that keeps those computer illiterate visually impaired people away from the sighted world.  if, on the other hand, those who can harness the power and resources of the PC or other computing devices to their advantage, they can come closer than ever before to the sighted world and get access to the vast treasure of information in the public domain.  screen readers are the kind of computer software that they need to do just this.

 

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, screen readers were very expensive, twice or more the price of a PC in some cases.  Admittedly, this kind of software packages are not easy to develop.  No matter how great the benefits they may bring to the visually impaired, however,  they would remain unreachable to many who need them if their prices were not brought down to affordable levels.  It was against this background that the developer set himself an ambitious goal in the early 2000-s, namely to develop a screen reading software for free distribution to the blind.  He was then learning C programing by himself.  Such a software development project served as a strong driving force spurring him to strive for improvements along his learning path.

 

The first release of Windows Light in 2004 laid an important milestone of the project.  This primitive version was no match for other screen readers then commercially available in the market.  However, it did give the Developer a great sense of success and the incentive to move forward.  At the same time, it also paved the way for the award of a Hong Kong Jockey Club sponsorship in 2006 for upgrading the software under the auspices of REtina Hong Kong. 

 

The 2007 release of Windows Light marked another major milestone of the project.  Thanks to the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s sponsorship, The end product is bundled with the Nuance Scansoft Chinese text-to-speech engines and it has since then become one of the major screen reading software used in Hong Kong.  In the years that followed, Windows Light continued to be upgraded to keep pace with technological advancement, adding new screen reading features and operability in Windows 7 and 8.  By now, Windows Light has become one of the few full-featured screen readers in the world which are distributed absolutely for free to the visually impaired. 

 

The Read Assist Edition

 

In a casual discussion with friends in the special education field in 2010, the developer got the suggestion that the Windows Light screen reading software might also be of help to students facing reading and writing difficulties (notably those with dyslexia).  After further consultation with the Education Bureau and the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority on user requirements, the developer managed to come up with a “read assist” edition of the software customised to meet the needs of dyslexic students.  The major customisation involves a new functionality which enables the user to control the reading of his target text with the mouse in a text editor like Microsoft Word.  Using the mouse, the user can get the text under the mouse pointer or the selected text read out in speech by a single click,  He may also choose to have the text read out  character by character, word by word, sentence by sentence, … depending on the reading mode he prefers.

 

The “read assist” edition has been well received by schools and students as an assistive tool aiding them in their studies and public examinations.  The success of this edition is indeed a tremendous encouragement to the developer and an added bonus to his efforts.

 

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