The 21st century is truly an era of technological revolutions. With the advent of advanced technology, our life today has certainly become more comfortable and meaningful than ever. Science is continuously pushing its boundaries into the world of unexplored mysteries and trying to demystify whatever that appears beneficial for us to understand. With the expansion of scientific thinking and innovations, I think the word ‘impossibility’ is soon going to be a thing of the past. I am blind but the advanced technology has enabled me to move comfortably along with other non-disabled people, be it in the office or at home so far. Now with the advent of smart phones, my life is now becoming even more comfortable as numerous applications are being designed to help the blind see right through their mobile phones.
About a month ago, I was very excited when Facebook announced that an online application has been developed and imbedded into their Facebook website that describes photos for the blind users. Till now, there was no way a blind user could make sense of photos uploaded or shared by their friends on Facebook, but this new feature has broken one of the major barriers for the blind users to interact with people on Facebook. Today, the screen-reading program on smart phones can provide brief descriptions about the photos on Facebook that makes it enough for us to get a rough mental picture of what the photo is about. For instance, it says ‘The picture may contain two people smiling outdoor’, or ‘The picture may contain one person indoor’, etc. This description helps us get at least some ideas about what the picture is about so that we can rightfully like or comment on the picture. But we have one earnest request here: when you upload pictures, we would be able to get more details about the picture if you include proper alternative text description about the photo you upload. The alternative-text field under the photo-editing menu is an important part of accessibility since it helps the blind read what the picture is all about.
Another fascinating application I have found on IOS device is the camera for the blind called TapTapSee. This application describes with almost 100 percent accuracy what is in front of you as you click your camera. When I just want to see what is right in front of me, I can simply focus my IPhone at the desired direction and take picture using this application. After a few seconds of analysis, it tells me back in details what I had my camera focused at. I have tested this application both at home and office and the kind of description it provides me of the person/object I focus my camera at is amazing. It even describes if the person is a boy or a girl and the color and type of dresses they wear. But there is one limitation. It requires active internet connection because I guess it links and compares the pictures we have taken with its database to derive more accurate descriptions.
There is another equally fascinating application called Be My Eyes that enables sighted people to guide the blind in a real-time situation. When you register with the application, it requires you to register either as a blind user or a sighted helper. Once registered and logged in, you are connected to a large community of blind people and sighted helpers. If a blind loses his/her way in the middle of somewhere, he/she can simply click on the ‘call helper’ button and one of the sighted members will be able to guide the person to safety. The call goes randomly to all the registered sighted helpers but one who answers it first will have the opportunity to help. My friend in Australia has tried this out and he told me he got a helper from England. Like TapTapSee, this application also requires internet connection and uses the phone camera to enable your helper guide you through visual contact.
I use another interesting application called ‘Talking Camera’ which reads to me what is written on the paper. I can simply take picture of the document and read it with this application. It’s very helpful especially when there are no sighted people around to read out for me. It is not 100 percent accurate but at least it helps me get some ideas about the document.
Likewise, there are many sophisticated applications that have helped us see the world through mobile phones and other electronic gadgets. Although science has not yet succeeded in replacing our damaged eyeballs, it has been giving us a lot of alternative ways to see the world. I am glad that there are scientists who are continuously working for us, to improve our living conditions and to enhance our ability to meaningfully participate in the mainstream social and public life without any hinderance. If technology in this field advances at this rate, I am sure we would be able to achieve our full independence some years down the line, and the word ‘impossibility’ and ‘disability’ will probably be out of the dictionary.