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The Unexpected Benefits of Smartphones for the Vision Impaired

Published on 22 November 13
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In 2011, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) wrote a book review for Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind iPhone Users, a book written by author Peter Cantisani. The book was one of the first that publicly discussed how blind and visually impaired mobile phone users were being benefited by applications designed to assist in everyday life. To some, it may seem counterproductive, or even impossible, that a phone or device with virtually no tactile features could be helpful to those who cannot see. But through bar code readers, crosswalk detection apps, photography apps, and many more, the iPhone and other smartphones are making life much easier for the visually impaired.

Bar Code Readers

Ender Tekin and James M. Coughlan published an article in the early 2000's about how blind and visually impaired individuals in Europe were benefiting from bar code recognition applications. The applications were developed to recognize and read bar codes to help blind and visually impaired shoppers decide what to pick, locate foods, and obtain nutritional information about the product, as well. The paper discussed how technology such as this had the potential to transform the lives of the visually impaired, and to help them live a more independent lifestyle. But Coughlan did not end his research there.



Crosswalk Detection Apps

In 2013, Coughlan paired with Vidya N. Murali and wrote a paper for The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, California about the "Crosswatch" project. The project is designed to help the visually impaired navigate the streets of whatever city they're in, alerting them to approaching crosswalks, traffic, helping them navigate, and improving localization and position awareness. The software uses computer-based vision and operates from a smartphone, eliminating the need for large or conspicuous devices.

Photography Apps

In addition to helping the visually impaired with navigation and daily tasks, mobile phone applications are also helping those with vision problems to engage in the most unlikely of pursuits: photography. In fact, the New York Times published an article in late September of 2013 outlining the story of a blind man who uses his iPhone to engage regularly in photography. Through facial recognition, verbal feedback, and other technological assistance, the app allows the visually impaired to take stunning photographs without having to transport large equipment, and without having to spend a large sum of money to obtain the technology.


The Unexpected Benefits of Smartphones for the Vision Impaired - Image 1


The Future in Sight

While technology has made many improvements to the lives of the visually impaired via smartphone applications, assisting in everything from money denomination recognition to navigation, more can be done to assist those who cannot see. For instance, app developers might be able to include tactile feedback, such as vibration, to help the visually impaired navigate the application itself. Additionally, advanced technological innovations in the areas of text-to-speech and voice recognition could drastically improve the apps that already exist, making them more user-friendly with a simple upgrade. While the future holds much promise, the developments that have already been made in mobile application technology and its positive impact on the lives of the visually impaired cannot be undervalued.

Simon Walters loves innovative technology. He especially enjoys blogging about the benefits of certain tech to help the challenged and disabled. Visit the Next Day Lenses for more ideas and information.




In 2011, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) wrote a book review for Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind iPhone Users, a book written by author Peter Cantisani. The book was one of the first that publicly discussed how blind and visually impaired mobile phone users were being benefited by applications designed to assist in everyday life. To some, it may seem counterproductive, or even impossible, that a phone or device with virtually no tactile features could be helpful to those who cannot see. But through bar code readers, crosswalk detection apps, photography apps, and many more, the iPhone and other smartphones are making life much easier for the visually impaired.

Bar Code Readers

Ender Tekin and James M. Coughlan published an article in the early 2000's about how blind and visually impaired individuals in Europe were benefiting from bar code recognition applications. The applications were developed to recognize and read bar codes to help blind and visually impaired shoppers decide what to pick, locate foods, and obtain nutritional information about the product, as well. The paper discussed how technology such as this had the potential to transform the lives of the visually impaired, and to help them live a more independent lifestyle. But Coughlan did not end his research there.

Crosswalk Detection Apps

In 2013, Coughlan paired with Vidya N. Murali and wrote a paper for The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, California about the "Crosswatch" project. The project is designed to help the visually impaired navigate the streets of whatever city they're in, alerting them to approaching crosswalks, traffic, helping them navigate, and improving localization and position awareness. The software uses computer-based vision and operates from a smartphone, eliminating the need for large or conspicuous devices.

Photography Apps

In addition to helping the visually impaired with navigation and daily tasks, mobile phone applications are also helping those with vision problems to engage in the most unlikely of pursuits: photography. In fact, the New York Times published an article in late September of 2013 outlining the story of a blind man who uses his iPhone to engage regularly in photography. Through facial recognition, verbal feedback, and other technological assistance, the app allows the visually impaired to take stunning photographs without having to transport large equipment, and without having to spend a large sum of money to obtain the technology.

The Unexpected Benefits of Smartphones for the Vision Impaired - Image 1

The Future in Sight

While technology has made many improvements to the lives of the visually impaired via smartphone applications, assisting in everything from money denomination recognition to navigation, more can be done to assist those who cannot see. For instance, app developers might be able to include tactile feedback, such as vibration, to help the visually impaired navigate the application itself. Additionally, advanced technological innovations in the areas of text-to-speech and voice recognition could drastically improve the apps that already exist, making them more user-friendly with a simple upgrade. While the future holds much promise, the developments that have already been made in mobile application technology and its positive impact on the lives of the visually impaired cannot be undervalued.

Simon Walters loves innovative technology. He especially enjoys blogging about the benefits of certain tech to help the challenged and disabled. Visit the Next Day Lenses for more ideas and information.

This blog is listed under Gadgets and Mobility Community

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