[OPINION] My life as a completely blind Filipino entrepreneur and tech developer
I'm Marx Melencio, and I'm a victim of senseless violence.
When I was a 23-year-old BS Mathematics student at the University of the Philippines, I was gunned down by a complete stranger while buying fried rice at a local food stall. Ridiculous and absurd, isn't it?
The first .38 bullet went through my chest, 2 millimeters from my heart. That's about the thickness of 3 hair strands side by side. The second bullet went through my head, 3 mm from my brain. This left me completely blind.
I have been blind for the past 16 years. Now stop and really think about that. Obviously, I was broken, literally and figuratively.
But that didn't stop me. My wife, my daughter, my dreams – they counted most for me, more than anything else.
So I began figuring out how to use a computer and to perform a variety of things through it and on the internet. I did this first on my own, but what helped more was when I started to mingle with other blind and visually impaired persons.
I owe a lot to ATRIEV, or Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired, as well as Resources for the Blind. They gave me hope, insight, vision, and the opportunity to look beyond my disability. (READ: How technology helped blind singer Alienette Coldfire see the world, dream big)
But I wouldn't be able to do any of these things too without my wife Cherry. Let's just say she gives me purpose, effortlessly – and that'll always be an understatement.
So, I began looking for available opportunities. I was confident with my premier educational background and newfound skills, but apparently there weren't a lot of opportunities here in the country, especially for someone with a disability. Remember, this was 2003 – a time before smartphones, before social media, and a time when the majority considered persons with disabilities (PWDs) as beggars; no more, no less. (READ: The story of Hannah, the blind girl on Twitter)
I remember sending my CVs to prospective employers – local call center companies. They would call me up and schedule an interview, and even though I'd explicitly tell them that I was completely blind, they would insist on meeting. Then, they would back away after learning in person about my disability.
So, Cherry and I decided to bet against the odds, and we built Grayscale, a small business that offers digital marketing, multilingual telesales, and ICT development services to companies and organizations in North America, the EU, and Asia. We did this without any capital resources, from a spare bedroom in our house – and it worked. Imagine that.
But we weren't just able to improve the quality of our lives. We also provided gainful employment and income-generating opportunities for other persons with disabilities at home and overseas. In 2008, I was even recognized as among the most inspiring entrepreneurs of the country by Presidential Consultant on Business and Entrepreneurship Jose Concepcion III and the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship.
Still, things began changing rapidly all around the world. I realized that I wouldn't be able to keep up with my existing knowledge and expertise, and keeping up is ingrained in my mind as the only foolproof way to ensure a decent life for myself and my family. (READ: A blind man's shining light)
So, I decided to improve my skills by focusing my efforts on helping prepare the Filipino PWD for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Thanks to an R&D grant from the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD), I was able to build VIsION AI Labs.
My intuition was to promote sustainable ecosystems across grassroots communities of PWDs, their parents, peers, the government, disability advocates, independent developers, and public and private groups. This is because in my over a decade of experience as a completely blind entrepreneur, support systems and collaborative inputs are crucial for the success of any initiative. (READ: Video shows blind mother seeing baby for the first time)
I presented our carrier project at the DOST's first-ever National Startup Week last October: it's an open-source, do-it-yourself pair of 3D-printed eyeglasses for the blind. It is fully customizable, hackable, extensible, and freely distributable, and you can watch it here in action. This is just one of the many things that I intend to create over the next few years.
Now, my mission might sound like a dream, but with continued entrepreneurial support systems, government programs, collaborative activities, and more inclusive diversity policies across public and private partnerships, I believe we can all make amazing things happen. – Rappler.com
Marx Melencio has been completely blind for the past 16 years. And for just as long, he's also been the founder, lead technology developer, and marketing communication strategist of Grayscale and VIsION AI Labs.