According to the WHO, there are at least 2.2 billion people in the world with some sort of vision impairment. In the United States, 12 million people 40 years and older have vision impairment that cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses. Most of these cases are from refractive errors, but the rise in diabetes cases is increasing the number of visually impaired people (CDC).
If you are interested in learning about some of the new technology available to the visually impaired, read on. We have six amazing applications and devices that you will want to know more about.
Technology for the Visually Impaired
When it comes to technology for the visually impaired, the technology falls into two categories:
- General technology: Technology like computer programs and smartphone applications that are used by both seeing and visually impaired people (AFB).
- Assistive technology: Technology purposefully designed to help the visually impaired do their daily tasks (Illinois Library)
General technology tools, such as GPS devices and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, are not specifically designed for the visually impaired, but are useful for helping them get around their communities and live their lives. Many tools for the visually impaired use general technology.
Some assistive technology has been around for a long time, such as walking sticks and audio description services for movies and television. However, in the current age of technological development and smartphones, tech companies have been coming up with some amazing smart devices that can really make a difference in the lives of the visually impaired (Microsoft).
GPS Devices Help Describe the Surrounding World
Visually impaired people have also benefited from GPS programs. The applications that seeing people use to get around, like Apple or Google Maps, have voice control functions that the visually impaired can take advantage of. There are also GPS and navigation applications specifically designed for the visually impaired.
Nearby Explorer is one of these applications. Designed by the nonprofit American Printing House for the Blind, this program uses the GPS to provide information about the user’s surroundings. It goes beyond providing directions and gives the user information about upcoming streets, nearby businesses and services, public facilities, and more.
Connect With a Real Person Who Can Help
Sometimes a visually impaired person needs help from a seeing person who can tell them what is happening around them, such as while waiting in line in a bank or navigating a grocery store. The Aira app connects the visually impaired person with an agent who can help.
The agent is able to access the user’s smartphone camera to see what is going on around them. There are visual cues that can assist with navigation, such as distance measurements, which allow the agents to give precise directions to the user. Agents are available 24/7 and can be another tool to help the visually impaired navigate the world.
Have a Braille Reader at Your Fingertips
Many visually impaired people learn to read braille and prefer using that method over text to voice options. The BraiBook is a braille e-reader that allows the visually impaired to read books and documents easily. The device converts PDF, ePub, and TXT files into the braille alphabet.
The BraiBook fits in the palm of the hand and has a braille cell at the tip. When the user presses his or her fingertip to the cell, letters automatically pass over it, below the finger. The user controls the reading speed and can combine it with audio. There is even an option to choose different languages.
This device is easy to use, doesn’t need an internet connection, and can carry up to 8,000 books at one time. The ability to use it with audio can help braille learners. The BraiBook opens up a world of braille reading to people who may not have easy access to braille materials.
Seeing AI is Excellent for Every Day Tasks
Nearby Explorer is one tool that helps the visually impaired see the world around them. Another is Seeing AI, a free application developed by Microsoft. Using the camera of a smartphone, the app is able to read text, decipher currency, and describe surrounding objects for the user, including colors and labels.
The app has different channels for different tasks and people can switch between them as needed. This tool is especially useful for the work environment, allowing you to “read” and analyze written documents without needing a text to speech reader or a person to read aloud. Other ways the app can support users is by:
- Scanning barcodes for product descriptions
- Recognizing friends and describing their facial expressions
- Reading handwritten and typed text
Seeing AI is currently available in 70 countries and supports a variety of languages, including:
Whether this is a tool for work, social interactions, or running earrings, Seeing AI has the possibility of being a major game changer for the visually impaired.
Use Bluetooth To Access Businesses
For the non-visually impaired, Bluetooth technology is a useful way to connect our devices to each other. It’s useful and helps us to live a cord free life, but unless your live a high-tech life, it’s just another technology tool. Bluetooth has the opportunity to be a game changer for the visually impaired, however.
Foresight Augmented Reality (FAR) is harnessing the possibilities of Bluetooth to create smart cities that use a smartphone app and Bluetooth beacons to help make communities more accessible for the blind and visually impaired. They work with local businesses to provide users with information that makes their visit easier, such as:
- Precise directions to the entrance of the business
- Audio restaurant menus
- Directions to the bathroom inside a restaurant or store
The FAR app also allows businesses to connect with customers by pushing out ads and coupons that the user can use in their store. This allows the business to connect with a new customer group and the user to find new businesses to patronize. So much business marketing is visual to draw customers in, but the visually impaired can miss these displays.
Smart Glasses Magnify the World Around You
Most people who hear the term “smart glasses” may think of Google Glass, the short-lived wearable technology that was supposed to make the technology on our smartphones hands free and easier to use. While those smart glasses didn’t succeed, there are several companies working to develop electronic glasses for the visually impaired.
One of these companies is Irisvision and they have developed electronic glasses that work with Samsung’s virtual reality headset to enhance the vision of the visually impaired and legally blind. These glasses give the wearer:
- A wide field of view
- A bubble view that allows the user to zoom in on the image
- The ability to take pictures of their surroundings to look at later
- A voice controlled personal assistant
- The ability to read text
While these smart glasses won’t work for people who are totally blind, they are an excellent tool for those that have some level of vision left, such as people who suffer from macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and other vision disorders and diseases.
These Devices Can Make a Difference
The world of technology is moving fast and changing rapidly. It’s important for companies to focus their attention on ways to make underrepresented groups of people, such as the visually impaired, have an easier time getting around and living their lives. These applications and devices are only the beginning of what is sure to come out of the technology sector.
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