There’s no stopping entrepreneur Jamie Teh. He and a friend, also visually impaired, joined forces to facilitate computing for the blind
The doctors didn’t pick it up for quite a while but Mum knew instinctively there was something wrong with my vision and pushed for tests
My wife Jennifer and I have two kids: Joshua, who’s 4, and Leo, 16 months.
Being blind makes some areas of parenting more challenging. It is much harder, for example, for me to take the kids to the park by myself. Learning to bathe a baby was also a nerve-racking experience. But in most cases, it’s just a matter of coming up with a different way of doing things.
I look after the boys solo when Jen’s busy or at work, and if you were to think of any ridiculous father-son game, I’ve probably done it: Josh’s favourite pastime with me is being picked up and spun around, or dangled by his feet or carried around in a washing basket. I know our house so well that playing chase with them down the hallway and in and out of bedrooms is also not an issue.
I’m one of four kids. I was born with cancer in both retinas. The doctors didn’t pick it up for quite a while but Mum knew instinctively there was something wrong with my vision and kept pushing for tests until the cancer was diagnosed when I was four-and-a-half months old.
It was so advanced that both eyes had to be removed. That was a big shock to my parents but they just got on with it. They raised me with this attitude of: ‘You are going to learn to do things; we aren’t going to do everything for you’, which has made a massive difference to my life.
I went to Aspley State School and then high school at Nudgee College before completing an IT degree at Queensland University of Technology. I got a good job with a software company after I graduated in 2005. Around the same time I was helping my longtime friend Michael Curran, who is also vision-impaired, write a piece of screen-reading software.
Screen-reading software takes what’s on your computer screen and translates it into synthetic speech so that a blind user can hear what is in front of them, which gives us incredible independence.
At that time there were a few screenreaders on the market but they were expensive, whereas we wanted to come up with a product that was free to use.
Ten years on, our product NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) is used by around 80,000 people in 150 countries and has been translated into 60 languages.
Mick and I work on it full-time as executive directors. Because it’s free to use, our funding comes from a combination of grants, donations and contracts with companies like Google and Adobe.
When money gets tight – and there have been some tough times – I sometimes think about moving on, but we also feel a massive responsibility to keep going with it because we know 80,000 people are depending on our software every day.
Jen, 32, and I met 11 years ago at a party. We just clicked instantaneously. She’s a music teacher and has her own successful business teaching music classes to children and their parents.
She’s phenomenal. I’m a lucky man.
Jamie Teh, at home in Brisbane’s northwest, has helped develop speech recognition software for the vision-impaired.