Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

The Blind Struggle As Gadgets Proliferate

Filed under
Misc

As technology has evolved, it's become lighter, smaller and more portable. For most people, that makes it more convenient. For millions of blind and vision-impaired people, it's anything but.

Jay Leventhal, who is blind, still fumbles with the tiny controls on his iPod but has given up on the kiosk in his New York office building that lists all the tenants.

For Leventhal, even laundry has become a task requiring the help of a sighted person. The washers he uses now take smart cards instead of quarters, issuing instructions on a digital screen that he can't read.

"The biggest barrier for blind people is access to information, and more and more information is being made available through different machines that aren't designed for people who can't see," says Leventhal, editor in chief of AccessWorld: Technology and People with Visual Impairments.

Blind people need a way to communicate with the machines that surround them, he says, from automated tellers to ticketing machines at train stations and airports.

Leventhal and other experts on assistive technology say there's no reason that can't happen. The technology exists in voice chips, image processors, cell phones, cameras and personal digital assistants.

Someone just needs to put it all together.

That's the principle behind the Levar Burton Vision Enhancement Technology Center, a fledgling venture in Morgantown, W.Va., that will pair the resources of West Virginia University and Georgia Tech with private-sector partners like Motorola Corp.

Levar Burton, who played blind Lt. Geordi La Forge in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," is lending his name and star power to fund-raising efforts for the center.

Though he's not blind, he wore a visor on the set that impaired his vision by 75 percent for nearly 12 hours a day.

The center and its partners will use off-the-shelf technologies like lasers, magnifiers and global positioning systems to develop, test and market products to help people see better. The American Foundation for the Blind, which runs a technology evaluation center in Huntington, W.Va., will advise the scientists.

Of the 18 million Americans with diabetes, for example, about 5 million are visually impaired.

But when Mark Uslan, director of the Huntington facility and his lab volunteers tested 30 brands of blood glucose monitors, they found only one that was usable - but it was 10 times larger and 10 times more expensive than the other models tested.

Mainstream companies need to consider the vision-impaired when designing products, Leventhal says.

"There's no reason for someone to have to make an MP3 player that's accessible to blind people when several companies are already making MP3 players," he says.

Though many assistive devices are commercially available for the blind and vision-impaired, each has limitations and nearly all are expensive, produced in small batches by specialized companies. Even a software program that makes a computer talk is nearly $1,000 - as much as the computer itself.

And with few health insurers willing to pay, sales are too small to justify significant corporate investment.

"That's why we've had to take this avenue," says Dr. Richard "Scott" Hearing, director of the Low Vision Clinic at Jupiter Eye Center in Florida and an adjunct faculty member at WVU. "If there were a lot of money to be made in this, someone would have already done it. ... It's not the cost of the technology that's expensive; it's the cost of adapting it for vision impairment."

A few companies are working on assistive technology, but one of the largest and oldest, Telesensory Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., went bankrupt and closed last month.

Jody Ianuzzi, program coordinator at a blindness training center in Florida, says cost is critical. Some people will find state programs to pay for devices, and others have employers who will buy them as a reasonable workplace accommodation. But for retirees and the under- or unemployed, she says, "one device could break the bank."

Hal Reisiger, president of Enhanced Vision Systems of Huntington Beach, Calif., says that's why his firm will partner with the Levar Burton Center; new products must be practical for the manufacturer, too.

"We could make flying saucers," he says, "but if people can't afford it, it's not an effective mode of transportation."

Hearing and others aim to keep costs low by designing not only assistive devices but also mainstream products with military and recreational applications.

Burton's Star Trek character is the inspiration for one of the most advanced devices on the market today, a set of goggles called JORDY, or Joint Optical Reflective Display.

It functions like two high-definition television sets, with controls over color, contrast and magnification.

But the JORDY is heavy, offers a limited field of view and lacks image stabilization, so it can cause motion sickness. And it costs about $3,000.

Paul Mogan, a legally blind electronic engineer at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, says JORDY is best suited to stationary tasks like reading. He wants to help create the next incarnation, special sunglasses linked to a wireless computer that can fit on a belt or in a pocket.

With a voice chip, GPS and image processors, the visor could serve as a sort of on-board navigation system for the blind, calling out hazards, announcing nearby shops, even reading signs that say what's on sale.

NASA has a compatible goal: The space agency wants a wearable wireless computer that would help technicians work independently outside a spacecraft.

"NASA has this initiative to go to the moon and Mars, and you're not going to be able to take a ton of crew, so you're going to have to be very efficient in what you're going to do," Mogan says. "All people have to be able to have access to a lot of information."

By VICKI SMITH
Associated Press Writer

More in Tux Machines

Leftovers: OSS

OSS in the Back End

  • Open Source NFV Part Four: Open Source MANO
    Defined in ETSI ISG NFV architecture, MANO (Management and Network Orchestration) is a layer — a combination of multiple functional entities — that manages and orchestrates the cloud infrastructure, resources and services. It is comprised of, mainly, three different entities — NFV Orchestrator, VNF Manager and Virtual Infrastructure Manager (VIM). The figure below highlights the MANO part of the ETSI NFV architecture.
  • After the hype: Where containers make sense for IT organizations
    Container software and its related technologies are on fire, winning the hearts and minds of thousands of developers and catching the attention of hundreds of enterprises, as evidenced by the huge number of attendees at this week’s DockerCon 2016 event. The big tech companies are going all in. Google, IBM, Microsoft and many others were out in full force at DockerCon, scrambling to demonstrate how they’re investing in and supporting containers. Recent surveys indicate that container adoption is surging, with legions of users reporting they’re ready to take the next step and move from testing to production. Such is the popularity of containers that SiliconANGLE founder and theCUBE host John Furrier was prompted to proclaim that, thanks to containers, “DevOps is now mainstream.” That will change the game for those who invest in containers while causing “a world of hurt” for those who have yet to adapt, Furrier said.
  • Is Apstra SDN? Same idea, different angle
    The company’s product, called Apstra Operating System (AOS), takes policies based on the enterprise’s intent and automatically translates them into settings on network devices from multiple vendors. When the IT department wants to add a new component to the data center, AOS is designed to figure out what needed changes would flow from that addition and carry them out. The distributed OS is vendor-agnostic. It will work with devices from Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Juniper Networks, Cumulus Networks, the Open Compute Project and others.
  • MapR Launches New Partner Program for Open Source Data Analytics
    Converged data vendor MapR has launched a new global partner program for resellers and distributors to leverage the company's integrated data storage, processing and analytics platform.
  • A Seamless Monitoring System for Apache Mesos Clusters
  • All Marathons Need a Runner. Introducing Pheidippides
    Activision Publishing, a computer games publisher, uses a Mesos-based platform to manage vast quantities of data collected from players to automate much of the gameplay behavior. To address a critical configuration management problem, James Humphrey and John Dennison built a rather elegant solution that puts all configurations in a single place, and named it Pheidippides.
  • New Tools and Techniques for Managing and Monitoring Mesos
    The platform includes a large number of tools including Logstash, Elasticsearch, InfluxDB, and Kibana.
  • BlueData Can Run Hadoop on AWS, Leave Data on Premises
    We've been watching the Big Data space pick up momentum this year, and Big Data as a Service is one of the most interesting new branches of this trend to follow. In a new development in this space, BlueData, provider of a leading Big-Data-as-a-Service software platform, has announced that the enterprise edition of its BlueData EPIC software will run on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other public clouds. Essentially, users can now run their cloud and computing applications and services in an Amazon Web Services (AWS) instance while keeping data on-premises, which is required for some companies in the European Union.

today's howtos

Industrial SBC builds on Raspberry Pi Compute Module

On Kickstarter, a “MyPi” industrial SBC using the RPi Compute Module offers a mini-PCIe slot, serial port, wide-range power, and modular expansion. You might wonder why in 2016 someone would introduce a sandwich-style single board computer built around the aging, ARM11 based COM version of the original Raspberry Pi, the Raspberry Pi Compute Module. First off, there are still plenty of industrial applications that don’t need much CPU horsepower, and second, the Compute Module is still the only COM based on Raspberry Pi hardware, although the cheaper, somewhat COM-like Raspberry Pi Zero, which has the same 700MHz processor, comes close. Read more