AccessWorld is an online magazine that covers technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. Published monthly by the American Foundation for the Blind, AccessWorld keeps its readers—people with vision loss and their families, teachers, rehabilitation counselors, product developers and manufacturers—up to date about everything from low vision devices to artificial retinas to Amazon’s Alexa voice-control system.

I recently spoke with AccessWorld’s editor-in-chief, Lee Huffman, about how new assistive technology as well as mainstream tech is improving the lives of blind or visually impaired (VI) people. Huffman has extensive knowledge of the subject gained through his writing and reporting, and his personal experience (he has Stargardt’s Disease).

Huffman is enthusiastic when describing how powerful, portable technologies like smartphone apps are expanding access to many activities for blind and VI people. A good example is Seeing AI, a free app developed by Microsoft. “It uses your smartphone’s camera to do a dozen things that other standalone devices used to do,” explains Huffman. “It has a currency identifier, a bar code reader, plus OCR (Optical Character Recognition) that can read Quick Text or printed text. It will also take printed text and read it aloud. You can also point the camera at someone, and it will say ‘Man with brown hair and glasses.’ If you had to use standalone equipment, it would be very expensive.”

Everyday technology such as Alexa and Apple’s Siri, as well as voice-activated home appliances, are also improving the quality of life for many blind and VI people, Huffman says. “Most washers and dryers today, especially high-end ones, are controlled through a flat-panel screen,” he notes. “There are no knobs or dials, so there’s nothing you can feel tactilely to set the function. But vendors such as Samsung have created washers you can speak to. You can create a profile on your smartphone that will tell the washer if you want to wash white clothes in hot water, or set a longer wash cycle, or have a double rinse. It’s all controlled by voice.” Huffman says when he and his colleagues attend CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and other tech exhibitions, they remind vendors to keep people with vision loss in mind during the development cycle.

Next month: why access should be part of tech curriculums, and how ECPs can better help vision impaired patients.

Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology