Sight-impaired individuals are being helped to make phone calls, send messages, and surf the mobile Internet thanks to Baidu.com?s search engine open platform. It is the first public service application introduced by Baidu, a Chinese-language Internet search provider.
The barrier free project began about six months ago. The application was developed by Cao Jun, chairman and CEO of Protection and Ease in Beijing, who himself is blind. The product launch was a joint effort with China Foundation for Disabled Persons and China Association of the Blind. Baidu intends to buy 150 sets and donate them to the blind. The product is being touted by Baidu Director of Marketing, Zhu Guang, as a gift to the blind people of China honoring White Cane Safety Day, aka International Day of the Blind, which takes place every October 15 in many countries around the world.
The White Cane is accepted as the tool of the freedom which enables visually impaired and blind persons to contribute in facets of regular life. The easily recognizable cane allows them to travel independently.
The Chinese government is moving towards barrier free environments for disabled persons. Jobs for the blind, especially in China, are scarce. It is quite common for such individuals to become a masseuse, which requires touch, not sight. One masseur, Guo Tao, in Beijing lost his sight when he was 13. He says "I had always wanted to be a war correspondent before I was blind," Li Weihong, deputy president of the China Association of the Blind, said most people with visual impairment in the job market earn their living from the massage industry.
Of approximately 60,000 blind people in Beijing, "about 1,400 work as registered blind masseuses." It is laborious work. The association is trying to develop other fields of endeavor. Li said blind people will be more fully educated in computer skills in the future. "If we can propagate the use of computers among the blind, they will have many more alternatives," Li explained.
Baidu?s new application is a move in that direction. Other software, though created for the visually impaired, is not specially designed for the blind to approach and search Internet information. Baidu focuses on Chinese language searches. The company name itself represents a theme from a Song Dynasty poem, literally meaning hundreds of times, representing a persistent search for the ideal.
Baidu noted in a conference that "applying avant-garde technology to the world’s most ancient and complex language is as challenging as it is exciting. We introduced ?phonetic? or ?pin-yin? search which allows our users to type in Chinese keywords using English alphabets. This feature is designed to skip the switching from English inputting to Chinese inputting."
Those challenges have moved Baidu to its current position. In 2005, Baidu completed its successful IPO on NASDAQ. Traded as BIDU, Baidu?s second quarter 2010 revenues were RMB 1.914 billion [$282.3 million]. Net income was RMB 837.4 million [$123.5 million]. Both figures were up substantially from the corresponding time frame in 2009.
Just announced third quarter net income was RMB 1.047 billion [$156.4 million]. Revenues were boosted by a strong 76.5 percent growth in online marketing. Baidu is said to have 272,000 on line marketing customers. They also offer several other products.
The company is predicting fourth quarter revenues of between RMB 2.37 billion to RMB 2.44 billion. Baidu is considered as the "Google of China". The original Google captures an estimated annual revenue from China of around $600 million. Baidu is the third largest independent search engine in the world, and the largest in China with over 70 percent market share.
Just as a White Cane helps the blind navigate streets and byways, Baidu is hoping to help them navigate the Internet – a move that should help the company remain very visible in the search engine world.