Thursday, May 16, 2019

5 Tech Resources for the Blind or Visually Impaired

When thinking of ways to support those who are legally blind, two supports often come to mind. Guide dogs and Braille. It's no wonder. Guide dogs provide their owners with a sense of freedom, an increased level of confidence, and a feeling of safety. Blind people who know Braille and use it find success, independence, productivity, and are more likely to find employment.

Surprisingly though, of the 1.3 million people in the United States who are legally blind, only about 2% have guide dogs according to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Also surprising is that fewer than 10 percent are Braille readers according to a report from the National Federation of the Blind. Unfortunately, these supports are currently generally reserved for the elite in our society because of cost and access. These are unfortunate statistics.

Fortunately, there are low-to-no-cost technologies that provide support to the visually impaired and blind population.

Five technologies to support the visually impaired and legally blind.

Exploration Apps

There are apps that provide GPS. These apps let you explore the world around you using audio messages. It tells you about nearby places, and it also will set up routes. The app lets users point the phone in your hand in any direction to hear the nearest places as virtual talking signs. When pointing straight at a virtual sign the speech is loud and clear, but as you point away from it, the speech starts to get staticky, so you have quick audio feedback about the exact location of the virtual talking sign.

Here are the two popular free apps.
overTHERE (iOS only)
Lazarillo (iOS and Android)

Sighted Volunteer App

Be My Eyes enables blind or visually impaired users to lead a more independent life by giving them access to a network of sighted volunteers and company representatives. By the tap of a button, users can get connected to a sighted volunteer, who is ready to provide visual assistance for the task at hand. You can request assistance at any time of the day, from anywhere, and it will always be free.

Seeing Assistive Technology

These are apps that narrate the world around you using a phone or glasses to identify what is around you out loud.
Screenshot of Tap Tap See, Seeing AI, and Google Lookout

Tap Tap See (iOS and Android)
Seeing AI (iOS only)
Google Lookout (Pixel only)

These videos show how this technology works.

Alt Text

More and more content creators realize the importance of including alternative text (alt text) with their images. This allows the person consuming the content to understand what is in a picture if they are unable to see it well.

Screen readers

Browsers like Chrome have screen readers built in. Other browsers like FireFox have addons. There is also screen reading software.  

Here are some that are popular:
JAWS (commercial)

Your Turn

Of course there are far more than five tech resources out there. These are some that are popular among innovative educators. What is your experience? Have you used any of these resources with your students are families? If so, what has your experience been? Are there other resources you’ve used and loved that are missing?

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