Mobile for Visually Impaired

It’s early 2014, and mobile technology has been entwined with nearly every aspect of our lives. Armies of developers have created application markets where almost anything is possible, with millions of applications available on a variety of devices. Whether using a smartphone or tablet, your versatile technology can go with you in nearly every situation.

Last year alone, ABI Research estimates that about 60-80 billion mobile applications were downloaded. Billion! And by 2017, that number is expected to reach as high as 200 billion. The result is a wider array of apps and innovations that are becoming more specialized, and the ability to change the lives of users is increasing.

Last year, like previous years, saw substantial advances in mobile technology. Particularly, voice-assist and voice-guided technology has taken off, and there are some interesting companies and innovations giving rise to a new mobile user – the visually impaired.

Visually impaired no longer overlooked

The NFB, or National Federation for the Blind, reminds us that there is no generally accepted definition of ‘visually impaired.’ Yet the NFB does offer the legal definition of blindness: “The central visual acuity must be 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction or that the visual field must be 20 degrees or less.”

By this definition, it is estimated that 7-10 million people in North America are blind, while perhaps twice as many or more could qualify under some definition of visually impaired. Unfortunately, this problem could be exacerbated in coming years by the aging baby boomer generation – as we age, our vision generally deteriorates.

Not only is the market too large to ignore from a marketing standpoint, but the sheer number of individuals being affected suggests that innovations and applications, if easily accessible, could have a dramatic impact on daily life.

The elderly and visually impaired in North America and many other parts of the world are finally starting to accept and use mobile technology.  Even though they are late adopters, the trend is clear and mobile usage will undoubtedly continue to increase in the future.

As is the case for many visually impaired, this is presenting a new opportunity to be more involved in everyday life and less dependent on others.

Applications and innovations going further

The application market is full of innovations and helpful tools for the visually impaired. The beauty in applications comes from the easy accessibility and relatively low cost for the user. Many mobile applications are free, and the vast majority of paid apps are priced at only a few dollars each.

Furthermore, mobile technology can help the visually impaired feel a bit more normal in a difficult world. Says Luis Perez, a blind photographer, “With the iPhone I am able to use the same technology as everyone else, and having a product that doesn’t have a stigma that other technologies do has been really important to me.”

Braille QR Codes

Braille-like QR codes have emerged and offer information on demand – the visually impaired user just needs to scan it with a smartphone app. Because the QR code is slightly raised like braille, it is detectable to even the completely blind.

With the assistance of voice technology, one application called Digit-Eyes helps users determine whether or not the food in their fridge or pantry is past expiration. The braille-ish QR codes are affixed, generally via print or sticker, and when scanned, audibly tell the user the expiration date. Although this seems like a small step, taking this idea to the next level could significantly reduce the amount of daily dependency the visually impaired have on other family, friends, and caretakers.

Another innovation that utilizes QR codes is the Audible Tag. Unlike the Digit-Eyes application, Audible Tags offer very broad usage and can be applied in many situations. The tags allow users to easily record and re-record audio messages that can be accessed, you guessed it, with a free mobile scanner application.

Since QR codes can be placed almost anywhere in the form of print, metal, stickers, and more, Audible Tags offer a unique solution. Putting QR code messages in public areas such as transportation hubs or historical sites can provide valuable information for the visually impaired, while allowing them the freedom to access that information as they see fit.

The same Audible Tags can be used not only by the visually impaired, but by anyone who is looking to receive audio information about people, companies, products, and more. The universal design of Audible Tags, QR codes, and other mobile technologies are making them available to a wider array of individuals – whether able bodied or visually impaired.

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