Technology – a lifeline for the visually impaired
By Amar Latif, blind entrepreneur, TV presenter and Founder of Traveleyes.
Technology is, without a doubt, the number one liberator for Visually Impaired people (VI). Without advancements in technology, so many VI’s, myself included, would simply not be able to do the things that we do today. Technology truly has opened the doors to freedom for countless VI’s.
Increasingly, I find myself using mobile technology. My iPhone has amazing speech and sound capabilities built in, which allows everything on screen to be accessible to me via speech output. Rather than having to settle for third party software, Apple’s phones have it included already. Built-in is always better than bolt-on! As a bonus, because my screen is always turned off, my battery lasts for so much longer than all my friend’s phones. Silver linings!
The best bit of technology I own is, without a doubt, the Apple Air Pods. They are an absolute godsend for VI’s. If you are not familiar with these, they are wireless Bluetooth earphones that link to your phone. Simply double tap them in your ear, and you activate Siri, meaning you can make calls, search the web, find out your exact location and so much more. I barely take my phone out of my pocket any more – it’s like having a personal assistant in your head!
Laptops are slightly more challenging in terms of inbuilt accessibility, which is way behind mobiles. The software is there, but it is nowhere near as sophisticated as it needs to be. This means I have to use bolt-on software, and the cost is ridiculous. It’s around £800 up front, which is bad enough, but you then have to pay £150 a year for the updates. It’s really poor – you have to keep spending to use a product you’ve already purchased. It would be great if all companies could continue to develop their speech software to make laptops more accessible.
As you may have seen, I have been working with Channel 4 on a show called ‘How to Get Fit Fast’. This means I have had to start paying attention to my fitness. A great gadget I’ve found is a set of smart scales. Not only do they track weight, they measure the percentages of fat and muscle in the body, and speak to you as well! (although, whenever I stand on them, they have a tendency to say, ‘One at a time please!’) They also link to an app on my phone, so it’s completely accessible, and it keeps a log of all the stats so I can keep track of everything!
One of my real bug bears is inaccessible entertainment. My Apple TV is great – I can say ‘launch Netflix’ and it will, then I search through content with audio description, then I’m off. So many places don’t offer this feature. One of the worst offenders is airlines. As someone who travels frequently, it amazes me that so many airlines don’t make their in-flight entertainment accessible. Touch-screens, no speech output and no audio description? Not exactly helpful for VI’s! Although, after giving feedback to BA for many years, I can report that they now do have audio description on their flights, which is brilliant! But as their touch screen system is still inaccessible, you have to rely on someone else to load the films for you.
Overall though, technology is great. It’s allowed me to live the life I have, from my work and travel, to entertainment and my everyday life. In the past, VI’s were often limited in what they could achieve, but now, thanks to technology such as screen readers and voice recognition software, we now have blind lawyers, accountants and politicians all over the world. It really has changed countless lives, my own included.