AirPods, The Most Accessible Headphones

Headphones are an often overlooked but essential piece of equipment for the blind. Accessing a screen reader in the privacy of your own home in a quiet room is a simple affair, you can just use the loudspeaker of your phone or computer. Add some environmental noise, head outside or dare to venture into a coffee shop and the loudspeaker is no longer functional.

Headphones enable me to use my iPhone both indoors and out and about, i literally couldn’t use my iPhone without headphones. Therefore, over the years i have amassed a rather substantial collection. Everything from a cheap pair of JVC up to a rather expensive pair of active noise cancelling Bose. I am rarely seen without a pair of headphones and have them stuffed in every pocket and every bag.

I am constantly looking for the perfect pair of headphones, the pair that will make using my iPhone that much more accessible. Now i have found that elusive pair, the Apple AirPods.
The AirPods are Apple’s truly wireless earbuds. Two single ear pieces that fit snugly inside their own charging case.

read more

Thank goodness for technology

When my sight began to slip away, I feared losing so many things I love. After all, so much of our daily lives revolves around the ability to connect on a visual level.

My first love has always been technology and just as touch screens were becoming common place, I was unable to see them. How could I possibly interact with technology that was so heavily visual? There wasn’t even any tactility to the screen, it was a perfect smooth piece of glass. No raised buttons to identify what I was pressing, no way to memorise an elaborate process of taps and clicks – I felt lost. Lost but not defeated; I clung steadfast to the belief that there must be a way to adapt this to make it work to my benefit.

There was an unforeseen advantage- and as a result an adaptability – to this. The migration to touch screen forced the industry to reimagine how we would interact with these devices. The result was Apple developing VoiceOver for the iPhone, a gesture based screen reader. I didn’t realise it at the time but this would be my entry point to making the world accessible.

read more

Accessibility – low hanging fruit

There is a lot of low hanging fruit ripe for the picking within the inclusive design realm. So in 2017 what fruit do i think is the ripest?

Dark mode. This one feature alone implemented OS wide could make a huge difference to a substantial user base Not only would it solve a problem for the visually impaired for whom contrast is a major issue, but those with situational requirements where dark mode makes the most sense. Think late at night in bed, that white screen just makes your eyes ache.

So will there be an appetite for this in 2017? My gut says yes. If rumours hold true and the iPhone moves to an AMOLED display, we will see an introduction of dark mode. This will have a wonderful knock on affect of influencing design direction for a while. So not only we will see dark mode introduced at the OS level, but we will start to see a whole host of apps fall in line.

read more

Lightweight night vision goggles

Night blindness is a common issue for people with low vision, especially those with Retinitis Pigmentosa. While your vision may be adequate for mobility in daylight, as the night draws in and contrast begins to drop, night blindness occurs. 
When i had sufficient vision for this to be a problem for me, I was always tempted by night vision goggles. There have even been research projects exploring this possibility. The good news is it can really help with mobility, the bad news night vision goggles are expensive, cumbersome and heavy.
Due to these restrictions i never quite took the plunge. But an interesting development once again has me intrigued in night vision. Thanks to a new breakthrough the advantages of night vision goggles can be had in a spectacle frame. There is still a need for external power, but great to see this moving forwards.
As augmented reality products advance it would be great to see this technology integrated to enable low light navigation.

read more

Blind hiring? Use the blind

Technology has a diversity problem, as do many other companies. An immediate point of change is the hiring process, my interest was peaked from a comment by Leslie Miley, of Slack. It was proposed that a blind assessment process is used during hiring, stripping applications of identifiable data.

This is an interesting proposition and similar to one i have been proposing for a while. Don’t simply do blind assessments, use blind people to do the hiring.

Passed the application assessment stage, blind people really come into their own. The inability to see the applicant massively reduces implicit bias. It cannot be overstated how important it is to remove those unconscious bias that we all possess but find it difficult to identify. Removing the ability to visually trigger these unconscious biases will assist in improving the diversification of the hiring process.

read more

Mixed reality systems

Project Tango seemed like a revelation a couple of years ago, a system that could do 3D mapping of enviroments in a small package. Now with the demands of inside out tracking for gaming we are starting to see other products hit the market.
I still feel this technology has a long way to go, eventually being shrunk down to a sensor that is as small if not smaller than today’s front facing phone cameras. Once we arrive at that point we enter the realm of discrete technology that is capable of augmenting reality in interesting ways.
I really see this being a product that is immensely helpful for the assistive technology arena. I will definitely be shaping the future of such products.

Mixed reality systems

Windows running on ARM

Exciting news from Microsoft that future versions of windows will run on ARM. Perhaps even more impressive it will emulate 32-bit x86, there is even a demo of Photoshop running on a Qualcomm 820.
If Microsoft can really improve the Narrator as has been mentioned recently this could be a great unification across all their devices. Not to mention it may instantly solve their lack of apps on mobile, opening the door for a Surface mobile phone.
Windows 10 to run on ARM

Computer vision for the blind

With computer vision rapidly improving, it was only a matter of time before we began to see head mounted computer vision systems. Horus, has a unique approach in that it doesn’t rely on connectivity for the visual processing. That means it will even work when the data connection is down. It covers some interesting basics of computer vision for the blind, reading and facial recognition for example. It does however, suffer from what i always conside the ultimate pitfall in these products. it was designed specifically for the blind, meaning the cost is high, as the market is small. 
There is definitely space for a head mounted digital assistant. So with a little shift in the market this product could be aimed at a wider spectrum bringing down the cost. Therefore, making it highly accessible.
However, this is a wonderful step forward and I am looking forward to seeing where products like this go.

read more