Apps can be a game-changer for the visually impaired
Thursday 14 October marked World Sight Day, an international event aimed at raising awareness of eye health and supporting those with vision impairment. More than a billion people worldwide do not have access to eye care services, and here in South Africa, there are thousands of people who are needlessly blind because they haven’t had access to good preventative screening and care services. For those whose sight has already deteriorated or been lost altogether, technology can make life a whole lot easier to navigate.
One such example is an app called “Be My Eyes” which allows sighted volunteers anywhere in the world to offer instant assistance to a visually impaired person, in real time, via an in-app video call. The app is available free of charge in the Google Play Store and App Store, and does not attract any costs for user other than the data consumed during use. Users can ask for help with anything from asking directions, reading laundry care labels, or checking expiry dates on the cans in their pantry.
Community Manager Carter McGrath spoke to us from Denmark, explaining that since it was launched in 2015, more than 5 million volunteers have registered and are helping over 340 000 blind or low vision users in 150 countries. We spoke to South African volunteer Terry Winship, who explained how she had helped users do everything from setting their bread maker correctly to reading labels.
Listen to the interview with Carter McGrath below:
Several blind or vision-impaired Cape Talk listeners joined the conversation, with Colleen making an appeal for more restaurants to offer braille menus – she gave credit to Spur and Mugg and Bean for leading the way here, and said she valued the independence and convenience of being able to read a menu herself, rather than have a sighted friend explain it to her.
Particularly valuable input came by email from our listener John, a regular correspondent who is now living in Wales. He wrote in to share some of the apps which make his life easier, and a few which have been recommended by other visually impaired friends.
“I sometimes use “Seeing AI”, which reads short text and documents, can tell you the age and gender of a person via photograph, and can even read banknotes,” he wrote. (Note - the app can currently read 6 different currencies- the pound, US and Canadian dollars, euro, yen, and Indian rupees. So no help to those paying in rands just yet, but definitely of use when travelling.)
John noted that Apple products, in particular, are generally well set up with alternatives for visually impaired users Other apps he flagged included:
AccessNote - a sophisticated note-taking app designed to support visually impaired students and working professionals.
Ariadne GPS - allows visually impaired users to navigate directions using talking maps and an innovative interface. Ariadne works anywhere accessible by Google Maps.
Audible - provides a wide selection of audible books, including recent popular titles, classics, and academic text.
Blind Square - a highly accessible GPS app designed for the visually impaired. It describes the surrounding terrain and announces street intersections.
Color ID - assists the visually impaired by distinguishing the colours in various items around them. A visually impaired user could use this app when making clothing selections or to tell if fruit is ripe.
Kindle - an app that allows users to download books from Amazon. Kindle offers accommodations for the visually impaired, including large print and narrators.
Light Detector - helps blind users hear light rather than seeing it. Users will be able to guage the intensity of light based on how high or low the correlating sound is.
My Vision Helper - an app that focuses on the following: magnification, colour, contrast enhancement, and optical character recognition (OCR). It is also integrated with Apple Speech Recognition, which means it can be operated (almost) exclusively via voice commands.
NVDA – a great free screen reader which is open source. The most used screen readers like Jaws and Dolphin supernova can cost a lot, while NVDA works just as well with all Microsoft products.
On World Sight Day Lunch with Pippa Hudson also spoke to blind adventurer Chris Venter about his ongoing quest to overcome the limitations of his sight impairment
Read the article here: Blind adventurer Christopher Venter on upcoming book and how he sees the world
Listen to the interview with Christopher Venter below:
We also caught up with listener Amanda Seccomb, whose eyesight was literally saved by an interview on the show – it led her to a medical professional who finally diagnosed the rare eye infection which had nearly left her permanently blind. Amanda has gone on to found an NPO called Eyes 2 Eyes which aims to raise funds for diagnostic equipment and improve access to scleral lens transplants.
Listen to the interview with Amanda Seccomb below:
Optometrist Andy Muir also joined us to share some tips on eye health, the importance of regular screening, and how lifestyle can impact eyesight
Listen to the interview with Andy Muir below:
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