Technologies Helping The Blind To See

The blind people come short of many life pleasures. Let us not think clichéd — to see a rainbow, to admire sunrise, to see a smile of a child. They cannot read the menu in a restaurant by themselves, or to do shopping… modern technologies though strive for making their lives better. Find out how it happens, what gadgets sight-disabled persons use from the article below.

There are 180 millions of blind and visually challenged in the world. This number grows each year. By the projections of specialists, there will be 275 millions of people having severe problems with vision by the year 2020 on earth.

20–30 years ago, the blind people were armed with sticks, guide dogs and simplest electronic products with a voice function only (watches, landline phones). We live in the digital world today, in the world of gadgets, messengers and interfaces.

Hardware and soft

An ordinary laptop and desktop computers are available today for visually challenged people. Braille Displays, keyboards and speaking scanners are no longer needed for working with documents or surfing through the Internet. All these devices are for sale but rather expensive (trigger price for Braille Display is $ 2 000) and, as a rule, are used only in specialized institutions for the blind people (schools, libraries, rehabilitation facilities).

In order for an ordinary computer to be available for a blind person, two programs are to be installed only:

  • a screen reader, which is Window-Eyes reading everything a user`s screen displays;
  • voice synthesizer, which is a program converting digital information a screen reader reads into speaking.

There are a few screen readers. JAWS and NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) are the most popular of them. As a rule, the blind people use both, the latter one though is more popular because it is free with open source code.

There are many synthesizers too: Acapella, Vocalizer, RHVoice and others. Many screen readers and operating systems have a built-in synthesizer.

The choice of a voice synthesizer depends upon the blind or visually challenged preferences. Somebody is more comfortable with a female voice while other prefers male voice instead. Somebody does not care about robot-like voice whilst somebody looks for as «live» as possible voice.

The blind people do not use a mouse in most cases though have a keyboard readily available. The blind input, in this case, is not a cool skill but a basic skill. With the help of different hotkey combinations, the blind and visually challenged people to work with various programs.

The choice of soft is determined by the fact whether this or that program is available for a screen reader. For example, Microsoft Office package is read practically fully. There are even special training courses for the blind and visually challenged people to work in Word, Excel and so on.

To read and send emails, the blind people prefer through mail-client, web versions are not always available (Gmail is an exception). The following programs are popular among the blind and visually challenged people to work with email: Mozilla ThunderbirdThe Bat!

Skype is the most user-friendly messenger from the perspective of a person who cannot see the view. And it is not about the fact that in this case, it is easier to talk by voice only but screen readers to get along well with it (one can find a necessary contact with any problem, to make a call or hang up «the receiver»). In addition, a voice chat TeamTalk is used.

When it comes to browsers, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer are considered to be the most adaptive. Chrome is less easy-to-use. Then again, the reason is simple and cheesy — no signed buttons a screen reader could read.

At that, the blind people get information, not from text or audio content only.

As you can see, a software suite of a blind person is little or no different in sort of an ordinary user. The same cannot be said for computer games.

Games

Computer games are an important part of the digital world. The gamers are ready to argue themselves hoarse what is better: Xbox or PlayStation, and developers are ready to contribute millions of dollars in order to make their games more realistic.

The blind people like games too but their gaming process might seem rather strange for a person able to see.

Games for people unable to see are generally western no development in Russian. Logic puzzles are the most of them (chess, draughts, and card games). Ontoys.net is one of the biggest Russian-language portals with games for unable to see people.

Social networks

There is talk that things are the way they are in the world of the blind. It does not matter if your cup is white or with a fancy printing — it is just a cup. Social networks sometimes replace reality for the blind people. What role Facebook and other social media sites play in the life of the blind people?

Web versions for social networks are not always readable for screen readers, which is why many people with disabilities use Miranda. The blind people make a joke that developers, probably, do not know themselves, what a user-friendly thing they have made. To use social networks through programs is easier also due to the fact there are no popping up windows. If an ordinary person may close unwanted banner via one click, a blind person has to wait while a screen reader reads it.

Kate Mobile is often used on mobile devices. According to what the blind people say, it is better than a native application for «Vkontakte», and most importantly, its developers are easy to get in touch with and accept comments.

Usability by-touch

The Internet is full of graphics. Only a short time ago, one perceived a drive for beautiful and picturesque design, animation of grace and flash as progress and «rising future». It caused problems for the blind people though.

Few are aware that there are website development standards for people with special needs including the blind people. These standards are free-will, few developers stick to them. This is because usability development for ordinary people is not a simple task anymore requiring significant resources, and usability for special groups of people is even harder. It is quite difficult to balance interests of all users.

Мобильные устройства

A blind person has its other four senses developed well. Hearing and sense of touch become acuter. The ears and hands basically become a blind person`s eyes.

A blind person can not read by-touch only (Braille system), but also understand what subject is in front of him/her. However, what if this subject is absolutely flat, with no dots or buttons on it?

A Hindu inventor Sumit Dagar at the end of the last year presented with his development — a smartphone for the blind and visually challenged people. The hinge of innovation is about the fact that with help of a special (!) display graphic and text information interpreted into Braille shrift.  It is achieved on the account of moving up and down microneedles making a relief in doing so. In accordance with messages in new media, such a smartphone is going to cost about $185 after entry into the market.

However, do the blind people need such a gadget if mobile devices with touch screen are possible to make available program features?

Voice assistants render a huge assistance to the blind people. They help to manage iPhones by means of a voice. You know them well: Siri, Cortana, Google Now and others.

Besides, modern many pixel cameras are good helpers even without additional soft. Visually challenged people use the zoom of a camera as portable digital loops.

Object identification

Along with mobile devices entering the blind people`s life applications started to come out making its quality better.

Object identification is one of the main difficulties a blind person faces with in everyday life. For example, one can hear a bus approaching but not its number. Within this context, visually disabled people actively try different applications allowing reading environment landscape.

Blind-Droid Wallet application handles a problem well. If to hold up a banknote to a smartphone`s camera, a voice synthesizer will say on the spot: «1 000 Rubles» or «100 Dollars».

Google Goggles is another example. Far from every medicine has Braille marking. This application can save you if you need to read a label.

A store is an issue. There is no such a program, which would read names of products and tags with the prices on them. However, there is already an idea of creating a service of the same nature.

«Utrophin» is a service in a move designed to help the blind people to know a city (to do shopping, to read signboards, railcar numbers, etc.). To put it in a nutshell, a special device is attached to an ear like a garniture (actually «utrophin»), equipped with a camera, earphones, microphone and 3G. When a blind person needs help, s/he makes a call into a call-centre, and a person on the other end of the line describes surroundings.

Space orientation

A boy goes to school, a girl walks down the street, and an old man climbs up the stairs… one can hardly see them be blind. How do they manage to sense so well especially if to take into account that they have neither a stick nor a guide dog?

Ophthalmic surgeon Anthony Vipin Das with his team work upon creation of tactile shoes for many years. The idea is about GPS to direct a blind person, transferring signals to the inner sole (easy vibration). The project is called Le Chal (translated from Hindu — «lead me»), it is considered to be promising, even won a two million grant of United States Department of Defense.

This for now, just like many other concepts, is only a theory. In practice, things are in a worse way when it comes to the spatial orientation of the blind people and visually challenged ones.

Bling people have a big problem of danger when they walk on the street or stairs by themselves. However, blind people have sharp haptic sensitivity.

The Eye stick has a lens attached to the bottom part.

It is possible to recognize the special things, such as traffic lights, stairs, the subway and so on.

And then each signal can be sent to blind people through vibrations.

The blind person can recognize where I am through the Eye stick and then they can avoid dangerous things as well as locate their destination.

Locators converting 2D images into audio- or tactile images are one more group of devices (systems vOICe and AuxDeco). They take an ordinary monochrome image and render each tonality of the black and white pixel into sound or tactile signal accordingly.  However, the problem is that in the first case, a sound signal is filled with rubbish while in the other — there is a major risk of tactile tolerance.

There is also an interesting Israelitish project called OrCam. It is a so-called system of virtual vision. The technology scans external environment, interprets the faces and gestures and even can read a printed text. However, unfortunately, the project is focused on the only visually challenged audience, meaning a human has to see at least contours of the objects.

Oriense is a device consisting of three modules: glasses with 3D-сstereo camera, autothrottle computing section, which is easily put into a pocket or to the belt, and headphones. The 3D-stereo camera allows not only understand the position of a pixel on X and Y but also to see the distance to it. This is how a depth manuscript is created. Also, a device process signals from reference mark sensors and GPS and forms for using the 3D-audio image and a voice description of the landscape. The 3D-audio image is a tonality and fineness of a sound signal changing, allowing understanding the obstacle fast. In accordance with developers, they strive for making a device better than existing GPS-navigators. For example, there is a function about Oriense of holes and stairs detection, the colour of a traffic light, and in future, its creators plan on a device to read railcar numbers.

Future

Technologies and people creating them are not blind at all when it comes to those who are unable to see the world at its finest. Due screen readers, voice synthesizers and voice assistants, computers, tablets and sensor phones are fully available for sight-disabled people. Concepts of devices, which are meant to make the quality of life better appear every year. Colour detection sensors, measuring scales, бbracelets-navigators — what won’t designers and developers think of next. Someone would say, that those are only beautiful ideas, but the thought comes before action, does not it?

About the author: Melisa Marzett, a marketing specialist who spends her free time reading, writing for Pen Essays Custom Writing Service , meeting with friends, traveling, going to the gym, jogging in the park every morning and watching cooking shows, is the one who enjoys life and calls everyone for an action to enjoy what life gives every single day.

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