This year, the government of India dedicated the National Science Day to the theme “science and technology for specially abled persons.” The idea was to encourage innovation, awareness and reach of accessibility solutions to specially-abled people in the country.
The differently-abled population in India is estimated to be 100 million, half of which is under the age of 30. This indicates a huge need for assistive technology products. The government plans to work together with corporates, educators, NGOs and the differently-abled people so as to promote availability of solutions that can help differently-abled people to lead independent lives.
People with disabilities meet barriers of all types. However, with the help of assistive technology, they are now able to do things that would have never been possible before—from switching on a light to having a voice to express themselves. Technology has always lent a helping hand for people with visual impairment, speech impairment and motor disabilities. The mobile technology, in particular, has provided the foundation for development of a lot of apps and gadgets that can help ease the difficulties people with disabilities face on a daily basis.
Devices for people with visual impairment
Dot. It is the world’s first Braille smartwatch. A practical, wearable solution, it is more affordable than regular e-Braille devices which may cost thousands. Dot helps the visually impaired to access messages, tweets and even books anywhere and at any time. It can connect via Bluetooth to any smartphone, then retrieve and translate the text (from an email or messaging app) into Braille for its owner.
Braille ebook reader.
A Kindle-style e-reader, it lets visually impaired people read easily. Alphabets are represented as raised bumps. So the visually impaired can read by tracing lines of raised bumps with the help of their fingertips. The reader also helps to understand graphics and figures.
Tactile wand electronic stick.
It lets visually impaired people to determine the objects that come in their way. As soon as the user approaches an object, the stick starts vibrating. The closer the user comes to the object, the greater the vibration.
This wearable tool assists in reading as well as translating text. The user can wear the device on a finger, then point it to a body of the text, one line at a time. The small camera on the FingerReader scans the text and gives real-time audio feedback of the words it detects. It also notifies the reader via vibrations when the user is at the start of a line, end of a line, moving to a new line or moving too far away from the text baseline.
Be My Eyes.
This iPhone application connects the visually impaired with sighted volunteer helpers from around the world via live video connection. It is an easy way to seek help for simple tasks like checking the expiry date on a milk carton or navigating surroundings. Volunteer helper receives a notification for help and a live video connection is established. If the volunteer is too busy, the app can find someone else to step in and help.
It is a touch-free smartphone designed for people with motor disabilities. It works by tracking the user’s head movements, using the built-in, front-facing camera on the phone. These tracked movements are combined with computer vision algorithms to create a cursor that appears on the screen of the phone.
The on-screen cursor is controlled by the position and movement of the user’s head, and supports even minimal movements. Touch, swipe, browse, play and download—it’s all possible using the Sesame smartphone. Voice control adds a real hands-free experience to the phone.
Kapten PLUS personal navigation device.
Traveling alone is a challenge for the visually impaired. There is always the possibility of taking a wrong turn or getting disoriented in the shuffle of busy pedestrians. The Kapten PLUS personal navigation device is a very small GPS locator designed for people with low vision. As users walk down the street, the device speaks out directions and locations, so users always know where they are and where they’re heading. In addition, users can plan and store routes and tag locations for use again. Designed as an affordable GPS accessory (and not a total replacement) to cane or guide-dog travel, the device offers security, confidence and a wealth of useful information, allowing visually impaired people to travel independently without the fear of getting lost or wandering in the wrong direction.
Car with smart feedback.
Engineers are developing a car that can actually be driven by the visually impaired. The aim is to integrate several computer systems, sensors and cameras to observe the environment around the vehicle and provide alternate forms of sensory input, including sound and vibration. This may include seat vibrations of various strengths and locations, pulsing vibration signals in gloves worn by the driver, auditory alerts from a headset and a sort of screen that paints a virtual picture of the surroundings using compressed air.