Don't Say Cannot: He may be blind, but he can text faster than you

Edwin Khoo, 43, surprises friends with the speed at which he types on his phone.

The reason? He's been blind since birth.

"When I correspond with friends, sometimes they ask me, 'eh Edwin why you type so fast ah?'" shares Edwin Khoo, 43. "It's because of the braille input in the phone. Sometimes I can reply even faster than sighted people."

Edwin, a braille transcriber, cannot perceive any light or colour and his world is enveloped in darkness. So since young, he has honed his sense of hearing, and picked up braille and the use of text-to-speech technology.

For him, the game-changer was having braille input on a touchscreen phone. "10 years ago, who would have thought a blind person can use a phone without physical buttons? But this touchscreen mimics a braille keyboard and translates my input into words that you can read," Edwin shares.

Photo: AsiaOne, Sharon Lim

The phone also reads out emojis and text in other languages. In this way, Edwin is able to stay connected through social media platforms like Facebook, scrolling through his newsfeed and commenting just like any of us.

Prior to such technology, Edwin and other visually impaired people had to pay additional costs for a third party software that enabled speech output in mobile phones of older models. "True inclusiveness is when I can use a phone just like anyone else, without paying extra."

Global Positioning System (GPS) and other transport mobile applications that help Edwin pinpoint his exact whereabouts have also allowed him to travel confidently, not just within Singapore, but also to other countries like Hong Kong.

"It was an unfamiliar environment, but I could confidently get off at the right bus stop. It gave me a sense of independence," says Edwin of his trip to the bustling city.

Photo: AsiaOne, Sharon Lim

Cashless payments have also enhanced daily living for Edwin and other visually impaired persons. "I used to have to fumble with notes, but now with mobile payment I just use my phone or credit card." Edwin receives a text message from the bank after each transaction, to verify the amount paid.

These days, there are also 'talking ATMs' that come with headphone jacks and audio cues for the visually impaired to make transactions at ATMs.

Edwin's enhanced sense of hearing has also developed into a keen appreciation of music and audio production. Despite being completely blind, Edwin is able to edit audio tracks on a computer and use an audio mixer. In fact, he has produced and broadcast his own internet radio drama, as part of a radio station started by a blindness association in the USA.

Photo: AsiaOne

But there's still one more thing that Edwin hopes to check off his wish list.

"I would like to someday be able to drive a car by myself. With technology nowadays, anything is possible," says Edwin.

Don't Say Cannot is an original AsiaOne series that shines the spotlight on people like you and me - average Singaporeans - who have stepped out of their comfort zones to do something positive for themselves or others.