For those of us who are sighted, it's sometimes difficult to fully grasp what "accessible" means to a person who is vision impaired or blind. I must admit, despite being the mother of a 5-year-old daughter (Bryce) who is blind, I am guilty of this very thing. In reality, it is me who is often blind to how truly "accessible" the world is for people with visual disabilities.
Here's one example: My daughter, Bryce, is currently learning to read braille. In my mind, she will be set to "access" the world once she can fluently read braille. After all, braille is everywhere, right?? Not so much the case. Imagine going to a restaurant and trying to read the menu without your sight. It can't be done for obvious reasons. Now let me pose this question...when was the last time your saw a restaurant menu printed in braille? Humm...
In reality, what we think provides accessibility to people with vision loss (braille signs at restrooms and braille on elevator buttons) barely touches the surface of a blind person being able to navigate the world around them. Don't get me wrong, I definitely don't want my little girl wandering into the men's room at the mall, even if she can't see! The current accessibility efforts are indeed needed, but we need more of it to provide better access to everyday tasks.
Thanks to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a blind person trying to order their meal from a printed menu is about to be a problem of the past! Researchers are developing an audio reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired, giving them immediate access to printed words: the restaurant menu, the daily newspaper, birthday cards, the label on the rice box at the grocery store, the price of the rice box... When you really stop to think about everything in our daily lives that require sight because there isn't a braille version offered, you have to wonder, how in the world do vision impaired people do it?! This new technology is bridging that gap and hurling us toward a truly accessible world.
The so-called FingerReader, (still a prototype) fits like a ring on the user’s finger and is equipped with a small camera that scans text. A synthesized voice reads words aloud, quickly translating books, restaurant menus and other needed materials for daily living. Voila - reading is a easy as pointing your finger at text on the page!
The FingerReader is a pretty intuitive little gadget. Special software tracks finger movement, identifies words and processes the information. The device even has vibration motors that alert readers when they stray from the script,
For Jerry Berrier, 62, who was born blind, the promise of the FingerReader brings the ability to quickly access the world, just like everyone else. “When I go to the doctor’s office, there may be forms that I wanna read before I sign them,” Berrier said.
The FingerReader can read papers, books, magazines, newspapers, computer screens and other devices. Still in prototype and test market phase, much work remains before it is ready for the 11.2 million people in the United States with vision impairment (according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates) including making it work on cellphones. Developers believe they will be able to affordably market the FingerReader, but are not yet able to estimate a price.
With technology advancements like the FingerReader on the horizon, I think it's safe to say that a truly accessible world is, quite literally, at our fingertips.
Alstrom Angels Co-Founder
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