We are living in a rapidly evolving technological era. In our latest blog, Senior Access Consultant Colin Earle explores how the world has adapted to the use of technology to assist us to live through the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those who experience a vision impairment.
As with many areas of life, technological advancement will pave the way for what access consultants recommend for inclusion within the built environment. This includes recommendations to enhance the daily experience of a person who is blind or who may have a vision impairment to live a maximised lifestyle.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 253 million people live with visual impairment globally, with this number rising as the population ages. In Australia, there are over 575,000 people who are blind or vision impaired, with more than 70 per cent over the age of 65.
Current and future assistive technologies have been developed for the marketplace with the goal of enhancing the lifestyle of a person who is blind or vision impaired to allow them to fully participate in the workplace and the social environment.
In Australia, the only Deemed to Satisfy (DtS) requirements of the National Construction Code (NCC) for a person who is blind or has a vision impairment are the following:
· D3.6 Signage
· D3.8 Tactile indicators
· D3.12 Glazing on an access way.
Future amendments to the NCC may include additional DtS requirements in relation to part D3 Access for people with a disability.
Advancement in technology for the blind and vision impaired is progressing at a rapid pace to improve accessibility and remove persistent barriers. Numerous technological advancements can help to create a seamless built environment, ensuring the blind and vision impaired have equal opportunity to interact with the community.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) for accessibility
Numerous apps have been developed to assist someone who is blind or experiences a vision impairment. Many of these apps provide audio descriptions and are able to scan a barcode and tell the user what the product is – some are even capable of read a handwritten note. The app can utilise a user’s smart phone camera to describe what is in the image to the person.
3D sound maps
Microsoft’s Soundscape is another product that is able to replicate the behaviour of a sighted person when walking along a footpath. Soundscape replicates a sighted person’s behaviour by building a detailed audio map to relate what is taking place around a person who is blind or vision impaired.
The system works by creating layers of both context and detail drawing on the following:
· Location data
· Sound beacons
· Synthesised 3D stereo sound which creates a constantly updating sound map of the surrounding area.
Knowledge at your fingertips
Braille has been around for nearly 200 years. Traditionally a tactile way of reading with fingertips, it has now advanced from page to screen through the implementation of a narrator. For example, Microsoft screen reader technology for Windows enhances digital braille for displays and keyboards. The provision of braille touchscreens that typically work the same way as tablets have already proven to be popular among teachers and students.
Additional new assistive technology innovations in this area include the BraiBook, which is a braille e-reader that can fit into the palm of a hand, and an electronic toy called the BrailleBuzz, which is designed to teach braille to pre-schoolers.
Beacons of change
Bluetooth beacons act like highly precise, personalised guides for people who are blind or vision impaired. Using basic GPS technology, these beacons can take users to a location, such as public buildings, restaurant and shops, and are able to guide a person to the buildings entrance. In addition to the entrance beacon, additional beacons are installed within the building to direct users to other key facilities such as information desks and restrooms.
The European Union has introduced new legislation that requires electric vehicles to have an audible device fitted into all new vehicles. The device is activated when the vehicle is at low speed or when reversing to warn any person who is blind, or vision impaired of any imminent danger.
There’s even talk of an adapted smart car that could be another game changer for a person who is blind or vision impaired.
Researchers are currently working on smart glasses that are able to use artificial intelligence (AI) to read and provide navigation information, and potentially identify faces. The glasses are connected to a smartphone through a processing unit, which allows the system to function without the use of internet connection.
These smart glasses are still in the early stages of development but are said to work with a reading accuracy rate of up to 95 per cent.
A brighter future for the blind and vision impaired
There is no doubt that global technological advancements will provide greater benefits for the blind and vision impaired. By maximising ease of living, those who experience a vision impairment can enjoy a more joyful and fulfilling life, assuming the tech will be accessible and affordable to all.
Technological advancements have made it an exciting era to be part with the promise of future developments to come.