When we think on technology from the perspective of people with vision loss, we can think of two main categories: general technology or assistive technology. While in the former we can think on devices like personal computers, smartphones or a GPS device, in the later we must think on items designed specifically to help people with vision loss or other disabilities, such as devices specifically designed for reading and writing with low vision or even with no vision, or screen readers for blind individuals.
Fortunately for countless people with vision impairments, today’s assistive technology for the blind and vision impaired makes writing and reading, in term papers much easier than before. Blind technology also assists the visually impaired with reading books, websites, and email, using appliances, navigating cities and towns, and much more.
As evidence of this approach of technological field to the blind people, we can find the screen reading software, which simulates the human voice reading the text on a computer screen or renders hard-copy output into Braille. This advancement has been considered like the most important since blind assistive technology started to be present in the field of blindness in the 1970s. Apart from this, several improvements, inventions and new devices have been developed in order to try to enhance the day-to-day of these people.
And it seems that Augmented Reality can have something important to say in order to join to this race. Imagine something beyond these computer screens, something portable which is able, for instance, to point anywhere at something and it tells you what it is. This technology has the capabilities not only to detect where the user is and to place information of interest close to the user, but also to recognize images, objects, scenes or even people surrounding him/her. It makes sense a technology that allows a blind user to know more about the environment where he/she is, and not being constrained to noises or touch events or objects needed to get more information about it, like braille. Several useful applications to blind people come to my mind while I write this entry. For sure that a GPS can guide to the user to some place, but itself alone is not able to estimate whether a direction is good with no movement, while the user is starting to walk. Current mobile devices, with the help of the compass, can provide this information giving even more accuracy to this step. Moreover, smartphones allow to the developers to implement applications in which they can customize it as much as they want, launching events or whatever when the user is close to some interesting point. With GPS devices, this can be harder and more expensive to implement.
Regarding the Computer Vision field, image recognition can be implemented in an easy way on smartphones and tablets, not being crucial looking for the braille writing in some specific place. With this Image Recognition technology the user would be able to point with his/her device to any target and get the information in the device, either in a speech way or in any way can be translated.
Apart from Geolocalization and Computer Vision, which are the main branches used in Augmented Reality, speech technology can or should be added in this case, giving to the user more control about the environment, and allowing him/her to interact with it.
I personally believe Augmented reality will bring a better way of feeling the sorroundings to those people handicapped by this disease, which until now were constrained to take big devices or only were able to use them in closed and previously prepared environments, like at home or at the office.