Seeing Beyond Limits
Franklin himself makes sure he is treated no differently. He renders hours just like everyone else, adapts to the work environment like everyone else, even went as far as learning a totally new coding platform that is used in his group.
Numbers and symbols that don’t make sense to many. Endless codes that define how a website works. The ever present risk of one wrong code that can ruin a webpage function, delete an entire database, or draw errors on a whole system. These are the complexities a web developer faces daily.
They are what Franklin deals with, as an intern in Unilab Corporate Information Technology (CIT).
And he’s never even seen a computer monitor before.
That’s because, Franklin is blind.
Franklin Chong is 4th year BS Information Systems student in the College of Saint Benilde. Having lost his sight at the age of five, he codes proficiently using a code reader, an assistive technology for persons with visual impairment and blindness. He is one of the best in his class, but because of his condition, his applications for internship were turned down.
“His thinking goes way beyond a regular student. He makes sure he delivers his requirements on time,” shares his professor Martin Manalansan. “When Franklin got rejected, I felt bad. Because each and every student should be given equal opportunity, regardless of their disability.”
Nevertheless, Franklin persisted. Last March, through Project Inclusion, Franklin applied as an intern in Unilab CIT. After showing the work he did in class and undergoing an interview with CIT Director Freddie Manuel, Franklin was finally accepted.
Different abilities, same standards
Franklin is assigned as a back-end developer for the official website of one of Unilab’s most popular brands. His task is to develop the modules for the website’s content management system (CMS), a vital system that allows the admin users to manage the site, edit some of its features, and upload content.
“Nung una po kaming nag-demo, napa-bilib kasi ako talaga kasi nagawa niya - add, edit, delete, update, and then na-pwesto niya kung saan dapat na pwesto yung content (When he first showed us what he could do, I was impressed. He could add, edit, delete, update, and place the content where it needed to be),” says Maricor Geronimo, Assistant Manager in CIT Innovation Center and Franklin’s supervisor. “And then nagawa niya in seven days. For initial development, okay yung seven days (And he did it in seven days – very acceptable for initial development).”
During his first few days, Franklin already impressed his team. And though he is different from the rest of the developers, his is not subject to any special treatment when it comes to quality of work.
“Chinallenge ko siya, sabi ko kung nagawa mo ‘yan ng seven days before, dapat itong mga susunod na module, five to six days, hanggang sa dumating ang point na dapat one day nalang ang isang module. Kasi dapat yung standard ng development from the start pare-pareho na across all module pages (I challenged him. I told him that if he could do it in seven days before, he can do the next module in five or six days, until it comes to a point when all he’ll need is one day. The standard of development at the start should be the same across all module pages),” explains Maricor.
Franklin himself makes sure he is treated no differently. He renders hours just like everyone else, adapts to the work environment like everyone else, even went as far as learning a totally new coding platform that is used in CIT.
“Ang galing, pinakita niya samin na yung programa ng PHP, hindi naman niya inaaral (sa school) yun kasing gamit nila ay IOS daw, swift programming. Pero nakagawa siya ng application sa PHP (Impressive, he showed us that he could do an application with PHP, which he didn’t study in school, where they used IOS or swift programming instead),” says co-developer John Junsay.
“Pursigido talagang matututo sa sarili. Sinasabi ko, ‘Frank kapag nasa entrance ka na tawagan mo lang ako para guide kita papunta dito’. Nagugulat na lang ako nandito na siya (He is really persistent in learning on his own. I told him, ‘Frank, just let me know when you’re at the entrance already so I can guide you to your place. I just get surprised when I see him already in his chair),” shares his office buddy, George Monterubio.
Adjusting to enable
As with all differently-abled individuals placed through Project Inclusion, an orientation was held with the CIT team before Franklin went onboard. This helped them get familiarized with working with a blind officemate, and make the necessary adjustments to enable Franklin to work at his best.
For one, they assigned Franklin to a workstation nearest the entrance, so he wouldn’t have to go through the rows of cubicles to make it to his desk. His teammates also had to learn how best to give instructions to Franklin. They picked up some of it from the orientation; mostly, they learned through their own experience.
“Yung developer ko, tinuturo sa screen, sabi ko ‘Huwag mo ituro, hindi niya nakikita’ (My developer was pointing to the screen, I told him not to, since Franklin can’t see it),” Maricor says. She explains how they would ask Franklin to open an Excel sheet, software he is familiar with through his app: “Magde-describe kami ng table, ipapa-type namin sa kanya kada cell – ‘Ito yung field mo sa ganitong table, yung sumunod na table i-list mo ulit.’ Through that, nakasunod siya. (We describe a table, then have him type in each cell – ‘This is the field for this table; in the next table, list it again.’ This way, he can follow.”
What Franklin lacks in sight, he makes up for with an inquisitive and ingenious mind – traits that are important in web development.
“Ma-explore talaga siya. Kung baga, ito lang hinihingi namin pero ang laki na ng iniisip niya,” shares his supervisor. “Dapat po kasi ganun ang developer, paano mag-imagine. Sa kanya, lagpas lagpas pa don yung imagination niya. Hindi mo na dapat pang turuan (He really explores. When we ask for certain things, he thinks even way bigger. That’s how a developer should be, imaginative. Franklin’s imagination surpasses that, he doesn’t have to be taught).”
New views, changed hearts
But it is not just Franklin who is learning from his internship. His teammates attest that working with a person who is different, but not less, has changed them as well.
“Naisip ko na nothing’s impossible. Parang technology rin pala ang tao, pwede mong lampasan yung limits [mo]. Nagagawa niya kahit bulag, basta kung ano yung nasa puso mo na ipaglalaban mo napapakita mong kayang-kaya mo (I realized that nothing is impossible. Humans are still the best technology, they surpass limits. Franklin can do it even if he is blind, as long as he fights to show that he is more than capable),” shares John.
When asked if they would recommend hiring PWDs to other divisions or other companies, they did not need to think twice. “Oo, kasi hindi lang challenge dun sa mismong PWD, learning rin sayo. Possible may magbago sa attitude mo eventually (Yes, because it isn’t just a challenge for the PWD, it’s also learning for us. Your attitude will change, eventually),” says Maricor.
“Ang dami kong kilalang programmer, napanghihinaan ng loob kapag may project na ibinibigay talagang bumibigay, gumigive up pag ayaw nila yung trabaho. Pero si Franklin, very motivated na tao. Nakakabilib (There are so many programmers who falter when faced with challenging tasks. But Franklin is so motivated, it’s extraordinary),” says George.
Franklin needs 400 hours to complete his internship. As of this writing, those 400 hours are almost up. But his contribution to his team and the whole CIT, and the difference he’s made on people’s perception of the limits and possibilities for persons with disabilities, will stay much, much longer than that.