Talking devices

Independence is the dream of any person with a visual impairment. We all want to feel the joy of being able to control our lives with the least assistance possible. It is amazing how technology served to achieve this purpose. So what are talking devices?

Talking devices are small adaptive technological devices that help blind and visually impaired in their daily life activities. Those devices are mostly normal devices like thermometers, blood pressure monitors, clocks, watches, scales, and many others; however they are adapted to the usage of blind users by installing talking software with them.

The talking devices added a great deal to the independence of all users with visual impairments in various fields of life. For instance, talking thermometers and blood pressure monitors decreased the health risks that anyone with visual impairment would face if they don’t use those devices. They also enabled blind users to take care of other family members independently.
I know a friend of mine who is blind single mother who has child girl; she used the talking thermometer almost every day when her daughter was a baby to monitor her temperature.

Moreover, talking clocks, watches, and timers helped blind and visually impaired to measure the time accurately and independently. A talking timer for instance is very helpful in cooking. It can be set to ring after any number of minutes; it is also equipped with a clock and an alarm…

It comes with a magnetic stick to be attached to the fridge for easy usage.

Talking kitchen and bathroom scales is another technological gadget that is very helpful for blind users. It enables them to measure luggage or food accurately and independently. However one of the set-backs of these technological devices is that they are expensive for anyone who doesn’t live in developed countries. The difference in currency and exchange rates make it difficult for blind users in developing countries to purchase such items. Moreover, because the blind community is not that large, and these goods are subject to the law of the market, demand is not high so the prices are also high.
I think the solution to this problem is either the developing countries have to attempt to find ways to locally manufacture those items, or these items may be purchased by associations to help blind and visually impaired use them for the sake of their safety and efficiency.

Skype: a Different World for the Blind

All of us know what Skype is. It is a very well-known internet telephony program for internet calls and cheap phone calls and SMS. You can use both video and audio to make free internet calls through PCs. I myself remember that I used the very early versions of Skype when we had to reinter the contacts every time after formatting our computer.

Skype for the blind is more than just making calls. Skype is a whole community to connect the blind individuals all over the world. It is a platform for education, entertainment, socialization, knowing new people, and even dating. As for education, blind Skype users were able to use the conferencing program features to give educational lectures, share information about latest technologies, or teach foreign languages. The listeners to the lecture can ask questions and give comment if needed, and they also can record the session for future usage or re-sharing through the internet. I can’t forget that lady who voluntarily helped me study geometry for an international exam on Skype, and save the cost of hiring a paid teacher to do the job.
Concerning the entertainment, sharing music composition, singing, poetry reading, exchanging recorded radio programs and shows are some of the top entertainment activities done using Skype audio conferencing features.
Once, a sighted friend of mine told me “you know all the blind people all over the world because of Skype.” Although she was exaggerating, she made it clear that Skype is a wonderful tool for the blind individuals to socialize and meet new people. Because of mobility limitation, travel costs, or being overseas, it is difficult to connect those friends together; however, they can talk for hours on daily basis. They can share their happy or painful moments and experiences without worrying too much about face to face communication or meeting. With the introduction of the video features, like other individuals, blind users were able to connect with their families overseas. Since Skype is that very successful for socializing and for meeting new people, it is a tool for dating and marriage used to know more the qualities of their potential partners. Many blind people don’t consider too much the physical appearance of their partner, so it is enough to like the voice, or to know the qualities of that partner through extensive conversations before taking more steps forward in the relationship.

For the blind, Skype is more than a program for making calls, it is a mean by which blind users can express their talents, solve a problem, or share information, and connect with more and more people all over the world.

Radio shaping the awareness of the Blind People

It goes without saying that radio is an important mean for information and entertainment for everybody. For a blind person, Radio represents something special and basic aspect of his / her life. There is a kind of agreement between a blind person and the radio. As we all know, radio presents its content depending solely on the receiver’s sense of hearing and imagination. Unlike TV offering the content taking into consideration the eye of the viewer which sometimes disconnects the blind follower, radio creates this strong bond between the blind listener and the content because he / she can’t miss any part. For example, radio enabled the blind listener to follow his / her favorite team and sport games more efficiently than watching it on TV because the description is more comprehensive and more accurate.
Navigating radio stations is one of the favorite ways by which a blind person interacts with his / her radio. Even with technology development and offering the radio stations through satellites and the internet, it is still attractive for a blind listener to explore new stations all over the world.
For a very long time, radio was the first source of news and knowledge. Before the talking and the Braille watches, a blind person used to know the time by relating it to a certain program broadcasted on a specific radio station. Nowadays, the blind listener is able to take more in interactive role in shaping the performance of the radio shows specially those which require the opinions of the radio listener using the social media networks, SMS, or phone calls.
With technology, some blind radio users took their experience a step forward to start their online broadcasting. Some blind individuals own their online internet radios.
You see? Radio is a totally different experience for the individuals with visual disability.

How does a blind use computer?

Many people wonder the possibility of a blind person to use computer. Believe it or not that blind people are well-informed about technology trends and some of them are early adaptors of it. In fact, computer turned the lives of the blind 360 degrees. It opened all door widely before them to take more effective part in the society. It greatly contributed towards empowering the blind individuals socially, educationally, and professionally. With the assistance of the computer, a blind now can read and surf the internet, use the chat and social media websites and applications. More professional fields are now available for the blind because of the help of the computer. Since the invention of the “screen readers” which allows the users with visual impairment to use the computer independently, our lives have changed dramatically. Screen readers are software that is responsible for reading the content of the computer screen. This technology opened doors to an accessible world for the people with visual impairment. It began with the use of hardware synthesizers to read the DOS screens, later, with the invention of windows, and the technology of internal sound cards,

The screen reader is just software that is easily installed on a normal computer. The basic idea is that the software reads what is shown on the screen. A refreshable electronic Braille display is another alternative for reading the content of the screen. Instead of the mouse, the keyboard is used to input data. Unfortunately, most commercial screen readers are very expensive for a blind person to get except with a help of an association or an agency. For this reason, an open source screen reader like NVDA witnessed a great success among blind users who found it the best solution to avoid the high prices of the commercial ones.

You can know more about NVDA through NVDA website.

Kareem and his Android

Kareem is an American blind friend of mine; I actually have known him for years even before I come to the States. We usually talk about anything and everything especially when it comes to the issues facing the blind. He is well-informed, modest, and always ready to help if he can. He used to talk to me using a computer at a certain public place, however, when he got his Android, it was totally different experience and a real dramatic change in communication between me and him overseas and his communication with the world as a whole. We talked about smart phones role in changing the interaction and communication between the blind and the worldwide web. Let me quote how Kareem sees his android.

“I like the android for its flexibility and usability. You can do many things with it. For me, as a blind user, I like to listen to music on my phone, and take videos in addition to checking emails and sending text messages. I believe that the android still needs more work to do but, they are on the right track. As more and more phones come out, they will get better and better.

One of the apps I like to use is the k-9 mail to check my emails on the go. It is very easy to install and to use for a blind person.

The next app I use is a software called svox voices. These voices you can find in the market. The android comes with a speech of its own but sometimes it is not always clear to understand so, the android allows the user to add an additional speech software to the device so that they can use it efficiently. The third app I like to use is Google Talk. I like it because it is easy to use

And u can find contacts easily. Now you can also use msn messenger, AOL messenger and yahoo messenger to chat as well.”

Kareem's photo

I am sure that Kareem is not the only blind person who has a successful relation with his Android. Definitely there are others who use different apps for accomplishing various tasks specially that it is an open source platform so creativity and empowering the blind will really deserve the effort.

Code Factory is a well-known company for its products and services for the blind, offers many android apps that can give the blind more control over his / her phone. In addition to that, there are many enthusiastic sighted and blind users and programmers who are willing to help, discuss, design, and support the whole accessible Android for the blind users. T. V. Raman walks us through very extensive and comprehensive information about android accessibility.

Before I go, I would like to thank T-mobile and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) for their initiative to help the blind have a better experience through t-moble discounted plan for the blind.