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World Braille Day: How Smartphones are Helping the Visually Impaired?

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  • Smartphones have revolutionized how visually impaired people access information and communicate with others, providing innovative ways to access braille and other forms of assistive technology.
  • The visually impaired can benefit from features designed particularly for them, like voice assistants, text-to-speech capabilities, and specialized apps.
  • These features and apps have greatly improved the daily lives of the visually impaired by providing them with more independence and access to information.

World Braille Day, celebrated on January 4th, marks the birthday of Louis Braille, the inventor of the braille system. This system, which consists of a series of raised dots that you can read by touch, has provided a crucial means of communication and access to information for the visually impaired for over two centuries.

In recent years, the proliferation of smartphones has significantly impacted how braille is used and accessed by the visually impaired. In this article, we will explore how smartphones are helping the visually impaired by providing new and innovative ways to access information and communicate with others.

History of Braille and Its Role in Helping the Visually Impaired

Braille was invented in 1824 by Louis Braille, a young French man who lost his sight in a childhood accident. Frustrated by the limited options available to visually impaired people then, Braille developed a system of raised dots that could be read by touch. This system quickly gained popularity and became the primary means of communication and access to information for the visually impaired.

Today, braille is used in various contexts, including education, employment, and daily life. It continues to play a crucial role in helping the visually impaired to lead independent and fulfilling lives.

The Impact of Smartphones on Braille Usage

In the past decade, smartphones have become increasingly prevalent, with nearly everyone owning one. These devices, essentially mini-computers that fit in your pocket, have revolutionized how we access information and communicate with others.

For the visually impaired, smartphones have also provided innovative ways to access braille and other forms of assistive technology. With the advent of voice assistants and text-to-speech capabilities, it is now easier than ever for the visually impaired to access information and communicate with others using their smartphones.

Smartphone Features That Benefit the Visually Impaired

Smartphones offer a variety of features that are particularly beneficial to the visually impaired, including voice assistants and text-to-speech capabilities. These features allow the visually impaired to use their smartphones to access information and communicate with others simply by speaking to their device or having the text on their screen read aloud to them.

In addition to these features, smartphones also offer a variety of other assistive technologies, such as screen magnification and high-contrast display modes. These technologies make it easier for the visually impaired to see and interact with their devices.

Here are a few examples of real-life situations where visually impaired people can use these smartphone features:

1. Shopping

A visually impaired person can use their smartphone to scan the barcode of a product and have the phone read the name and price of the item aloud to them. This allows them to make informed decisions about their purchases without someone else’s assistance.

2. Navigation

Most smartphone map apps provide audio cues to guide the visually impaired to their destination. This can be particularly useful when navigating unfamiliar areas or traveling alone.

3. Communication

A visually impaired person can use the text-to-speech capability of their smartphone to send and receive messages or make phone calls. This allows them to communicate independently without relying on someone else to read or write messages for them.

4. Accessing Information

The smartphone voice assistant can also search the internet or access specific information, such as weather forecasts or the latest news. This allows the visually impaired to stay informed and up-to-date on current events without relying on someone else to read the information.

Smartphone Apps for the Visually Impaired

Siri and Google Assistant are voice assistants that can be very helpful to visually impaired smartphone users. They allow visually impaired people to access information and perform tasks using their voice instead of visual input.

For example, a visually impaired person could use Siri or Google Assistant to find out the weather forecast, set a reminder, or send a message without looking at their device’s screen.

But these aren’t the only apps that can benefit the visually impaired. iPhone and Android phones come with various built-in accessibility features and apps that can be helpful to blind and visually impaired users. Below, we’ve shared a list of iPhone and Android smartphone apps specifically designed for the visually impaired. So, let’s dive right in.

iOS Apps for the Visually Impaired

Some iPhone apps that make a big difference for blind users include the following. All these apps are accessible on most iPhone models, including the iPhone X, iPhone 11, iPhone 12, iPhone 13, and iPhone 14.

1. Hey Siri

On iPhone, Siri is a built-in voice assistant that can be activated by pressing and holding the home button or saying “Hey Siri.” You can access Hey Siri if you have an iPhone 6s or later.

Once activated, you can ask Siri questions or give it commands, and it will respond with spoken answers or perform tasks such as setting reminders or sending messages.

2. BlindSquare

BlindSquare is an iOS app that uses GPS and other technologies to provide audio information about a user’s surroundings, perfect for the visually impaired.

It can announce the names of streets, intersections, and points of interest as the user moves about, allowing them to navigate unfamiliar areas more independently. BlindSquare can also provide information about the location of nearby public transportation and can be customized to provide only the most relevant information to the user.

3. LookTel Money Reader

LookTel Money Reader uses the camera on your iPhone to identify and speak the value of the paper currency. The app is designed to help visually impaired users quickly and accurately determine the value of bills when making transactions.

To use the app, the user holds the camera up to a bill, and the app will announce the bill’s value out loud. The app can recognize bills from a variety of different countries and can be customized to speak in a variety of different languages.

4. Seeing AI

Seeing AI is a free iOS app developed by Microsoft that uses artificial intelligence to describe the world around a visually impaired user. The app can recognize and describe people, text, and objects and provide information about colors and the overall scene. It can also read documents and menus out loud and identify products by scanning their barcodes.

Seeing AI is designed to make it easier for visually impaired users to navigate their environment and access information independently. It is regularly updated with new features and capabilities.

5. Braille Tutor

Braille Tutor provides interactive lessons and exercises for learning braille. The app is designed to be used by both sighted and visually impaired users, with audio and visual feedback. It helps you learn and practice the braille alphabet and basic braille words.

This app includes a variety of lessons and exercises, ranging from basic letter recognition to more advanced reading and writing skills. It is intended to be a helpful resource for anyone interested in learning braille, whether a beginner or an experienced braille reader.

Android Apps for the Visually Impaired

On Android phones, some built-in accessibility features, and apps that can help people who are blind include the following.

1. Google Assistant

Google Assistant is available on both iPhone and Android phones. On Android phones, it is often pre-installed and activated by saying “Ok Google” or pressing and holding the home button. On iPhone, it can be downloaded from the App Store. Like Siri, Google Assistant allows users to ask questions or give commands using their voice, and it will provide spoken answers or perform tasks in response.

2. Lookout

Lookout uses the camera on a smartphone to provide audio information about a user’s surroundings. The app is designed to help visually impaired users navigate unfamiliar environments more independently by providing audio cues about nearby objects and obstacles.

It can also identify and describe text and objects and provide information about colors. Lookout can be customized to provide only the most relevant information to the user and can be used in various settings, including indoors and outdoors.

3. Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes connects visually impaired users with sighted volunteers who can assist them with tasks such as reading labels or navigating unfamiliar areas. The app uses video call technology to allow users to see what the volunteer sees through their phone’s camera. The volunteer can then describe what they see and assist the user with whatever task they are trying to accomplish.

This app aims to provide visually impaired users with the support and assistance they need to live more independently and confidently. The app has a large community of volunteers available to help users around the clock.

4. TapTapSee

TapTapSee uses your smartphone’s camera to take pictures of objects and then describes the objects using text-to-speech technology. The app is designed to help visually impaired users identify and learn about the objects in their environment.

To use the app, you need to take a picture of the object using the app, and the app will describe the object out loud. TapTapSee can recognize many things, including household items, clothing, and personal possessions.

5. KNFB Reader App

KNFB Reader can take a picture of a document using your smartphone camera and convert the text on the document into speech. The app is designed to help visually impaired users easily access printed materials such as books, newspapers, and documents.

To use the app, you need to take a picture of the document using the app, and the app will scan the document and convert the text into speech. The app can recognize text in various languages and can be customized to adjust the reading speed and voice of the text-to-speech function. 

Conclusion

The #WorldBrailleDay is an excellent reminder of how smartphones are helping the visually impaired in a variety of ways, including providing new and innovative ways to access braille and other assistive technology. With the help of voice assistants, text-to-speech capabilities, and specialized apps, the visually impaired can lead more independent and fulfilling lives. As technology advances, we will likely see even more innovations in this area, further improving the lives of the visually impaired.

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