PETER WONG, 35, SCOOTS HIS CHAIR AROUND his cluttered office at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, his fingers stretching for command keys on each of his three computers. In the background a synthesized voice reads from his computer screens at a speed almost too fast for the average listener to understand. Aided by innovations like this—and a few he invented himself—Wong, who lost his vision to glaucoma at 14, is a programmer who says that in his line of work, his blindness is "irrelevant."
A native of Hong Kong, Wong joined Microsoft in 1993. As a lead software tester in the company's Accessibility & Disabilities group, he helped create one of the first closed-captioned CD-ROMs for deaf children, a talking fax machine for the visually impaired and a system for converting onscreen Chinese characters into printable Braille. "Peter really has this goal of our software being used by everybody, not just the sighted," says David Shifflet, who supervises Wong's projects. For Wong, working alongside sighted employees is itself a step toward another goal—the acceptance of the disabled in the workforce. "When you see a person on a day-to-day basis," he says, "you start to see them as a regular part of your life. Pretty soon you have to remind yourself this person is blind."