Hasan Özdemir, a visually impaired software developer known for his work for visually impaired users in Turkey, has been promoted to lead Microsoft’s accessibility team at the company’s US headquarters.
Özdemir will be in charge of staff testing the accessibility features of commercial software that Microsoft develops for users with disabilities such as, visually impaired and hearing-impaired.
Özdemir, is behind a Braille translation software that is widely used by visually impaired people in Turkey. He has worked for Microsoft Turkey for the past 10 years and made headlines for being the first visually impaired programmer in Turkey. A self-taught developer, he coded several text-to-speech programs before joining Microsoft.
Özdemir, who was born in northern Turkey’s Ordu, said he overcame many odds to finish his education after he and his family migrated to Istanbul while he was 8.
“I learned English and discovered the world of computers later. I felt like I was born again once I became familiar with computers. I was very interested in technology and how technologies facilitating our lives are developed. I decided to develop software and learned to code while in high school. Soon, I was able to code on my own and compiled a few programs. I sold them and set up my own company,” Özdemir recounts his life story.
Özdemir says the software he developed touched the lives of thousands of disabled people. He originally developed them for his own use and it was only later he noticed other people needed to use them too.
Among programs he developed is an authentic text-to-speech engine in Turkish, a Braille keyboard application that enables users to use only six keys for the entire functions of a keyboard, a program for a tactile printout for the visually impaired and a Windows learning kit for the visually impaired.
“I wanted to help more people, people in other countries that needed such programs and the only way was to join a multinational company,” he said. “I was introduced to Microsoft by Sinan Yaman, head of the nonprofit Young Guru Academy. He arranged a meeting with the then-CEO of the company’s Turkey branch. The CEO told me I had a future and they desired to work with me.”
While at Microsoft, Özdemir learned new programming languages and led projects for the disabled, like a voice library allowing visually impaired to have access to 40,000 books. He now dreams of working on projects combining biology and technology.
“I truly believe that it is through the technology that all disabilities can be eliminated in the future and I want to be a part of it when it happens,” he says.