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Easing life transitions for the disabled through technology
May 23, 2018 | 4:25 PM
by Salim Al Afifi
 
Sharelines

Technology has long been playing a role in improving the lives of the disabled. With modern advancement in the world of smartphones, developers have become determined to lend a helping hand to those in need, making their lives easier and allowing them to be a part of society and its tech evolution.

“Years back blindness had shut all the doors of opportunities for us. We could not find a suitable job. That was not all. Even our day-to-day activities were affected owing to our disability, especially at the banks or other offices. We struggled even with the simple transaction procedures and bill payments,” said Ali Al Amri, a visually impaired IT expert in town, while remembering his days of difficulties when he struggled with the most common tasks that people often took for granted.

Ali Al Amri at MI Store workshop for the blind


From navigating the grocery stores and doing bank work, to travelling without assistance, Amri faced setbacks at every step. But today with the help of technology, Amri has learnt to see differently and live independently as well.


“We used to suffer when it came to bank procedures, but now, with modern technology and the availability of these applications, we are blessed,” he said.

There are millions like Amri who have been through this struggle but thanks to technology that they have not been left out. Today it is technology that is helping them to see. And to emphasise more on the need of making technology accesssible to the disabled, every year in the month of May, the world comes together to raise awareness on this.

Called Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), this day is commemorated to shed light over digital matters that affect the disabled, and to get people to talk, think, learn, and develop digital access for those with various special needs.

It all started in Los Angeles where a local web developer, Joe Devon, shared a blog post, which was accidentally found by Toronto-based accessibility professional Jennison Asuncion. The two joined forces and brought about awareness over the issue, which became a global celebration of knowledge.

The event targets a variety of people in design, development, usability, and other relevant technology communities who might contribute to raise funds, develop new ideas, and influence new technologies. It also focuses on bringing disabled communities and developers together to learn and help one another develop software and smartphone applications.

Members of Al Noor Association for the Blind at MI Store


In Oman, Apple’s certified reseller MI store recently held a workshop in collaboration with Al Noor Association for the Blind, where a group of visually impaired people spoke about the importance of making technology disabled-friendly, and shared a number of innovative applications that contributed to making the lives of the visually impaired easier.

At the workshop, people joined hands with the visually impaired to explore Apple’s modern smartphone technology in an interactive session that involved hands-on experience on how to use some of the popular apps for the visually impaired.

Apple is one of the most celebrated brands that continues to promote GAAD. The leading brand has developed products that are visually impaired-friendly, including an Apple Watch, which counts calories for wheelchair users; Voiceover on the iPhone, which describes what’s on the device screen for visually impaired users; and HomeKit, an interesting home automation platform, among other apps. The brand has a dedicated page that showcases other applications developed by folks who are determined to the cause.

Some of the popular apps for the visually impaired that work on Apple’s iOS platform include Be My Eyes, an app that allows volunteers to help the visually impaired in real-time by being their eyes and helping them remotely through a live video. It’s a great and powerful tool that aids in different situations such as identifying medicines. The app has a fast growing network of more than 35,000 visually impaired users and more than half a million volunteers who are a connection away.

Another significant app is the TapTapSee, which is an app that identifies objects through photos. It works by double tapping the screen to take a photo of an object from any angle, and then hearing the app’s identification out loud.

Money identifier applications are also of great importance. With the international app, LookTel, life has become easier for the disabled. And Oman has its very own alternative app that identifies the Omani rial.

Modern apps and the ever-growing presence of technology grant people new ways of reading, writing, and doing pretty much anything. All these advancements in the world show that technology is central to the lives of millions who suffer from visual impairment; such events that raise awareness on the matter contribute to making it happen even faster.

Amri urges developers to always keep in mind the ‘disabled’ as they are part of the community, especially in developing apps that help them in day-to-day tasks such as banking and paying bills, which can be quite a hassle.

A photo from MI Store's workshop for the blind


Rashed Al Farsi, a representative of Al Noor Association for the Blind, agreed that technology is of great significance to the disabled, saying, “Technology is of great help to the visually impaired; it is the fundamental and main factor in creating many shortcuts for us.” He added, “These shortcuts have made our lives easier.” Companies such as Microsoft, Netflix, Google, Facebook, Uber, and other popular products and applications are all developing ways to make life easy for the visually impaired, and pushing for an alternative way to include all kinds of people, in order to celebrate the beauty of technology, together.

“Technology has helped everyone, but it has helped people with special needs even more,” said Amri, adding, “It helped us find new jobs in a variety of fields.”

From Braille to accessible screen readers, we have come a long way, and will continue to find new and smart ways to help people from all segments, everywhere. — [email protected]

Best apps for the disabled:

1. Physiotherapy Exercises App

The Physiotherapy Exercises app contains more than 1,000 images illustrating 600 exercises suitable for those with physical disabilities, spinal cord injury, or neurological conditions.

Available on iOS

2. Voice Access

Voice Access is an app by Google, and it focuses on helping those who have physical disabilities by allowing them to control their device using their voice as a button.

Available on Android

3. Avaz

Avaz is an app developed for children who have difficulty speaking, as it allows them to use picture symbols and voice synthesis to create messages and develop their language skills. It’s a great app for kids with autism.

Available on iOS and Android

4. Dictate

Dictate is a voice recognition app that allows you to speak and instantly see your text or email. You can update your Facebook status, Twitter, and many more.

Available on iOS

5. Super Hearing Aid

This app allows you to plug your headphones into your smartphone and adjust the volume of sound around you. It amplifies sound and reduce background noise, among other things.

Available on iOS

6. A Buzoo Story

This app was developed to help kids with autism improve their social and communication skills.

Available on Android

7. RogerVoice Caption Calls

RogerVoice can help those with hearing impairments by captioning their phone conversations in real time. As a person is talking to you, text will appear on your screen so you can read along.

Available on iOS and Android

8. RIDBC Auslan Tutor

The app allows you to learn 150 common Auslan signs with a step-by-step process which includes pictures and videos. The premium version includes over 500 signs.

Available on iOS and Android

9. WheelNav

This app helps handicapped people find places that are easily accessible. The app feature accurate and comprehensive map, as well as voice guided GPS, and many other features.

Available on iOS

10. Wheel Mate

Wheel Mate assists disabled individuals to locate accessible parking and bathrooms when they’re on the move.

Available on iOS

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