| TORONTO, April 28
TORONTO, April 28 For the visually impaired,
navigating through neighborhoods can be a struggle, but apps aim
to shed light on places, people, and obstacles that lie in their
There are 285 million visually impaired people worldwide,
about 39 million of whom are blind, according to the World
Guide Dots, a free app for Android, detects a person's
location and uses audio voice-overs to announce nearby
attractions, including restaurants, shops - and even friends.
"We let people know what's around them more than a cane can,
broadening their horizon more than a six foot circle around
them," said Deborah Vandeven, global chief creative officer at
VML, based in Kansas City, Missouri, which created the app.
With the app, users tap the Nearby button to hear a
voiceover of places around them. They can also tag walkway
obstructions, restrooms, and places with good service, and share
this feedback with other users of the app.
If they feel like meeting a friend, they can find out if any
Facebook friends are around.
While the app is meant complement a guide dog or cane,
Vandeven said it's about giving more independence to the
visually impaired. By leveraging Android's TalkBack feature, a
screen reader, people can hear the different options on the
screen read aloud, and double-tap to choose one.
The app gets location data about people and places from
Google Maps and Facebook Places. However, because GPS is only
accurate to approximately 15 meters, the company plans to use
beacon technology, bluetooth sensors that communicate location
and other data to a person's smartphone, to increase accuracy.
"This will help move you those last couple feet that for a
visually impaired person could be the size of the Grand Canyon,
so beacons are definitely a good use case for that," she added.
BlindSquare for iOS is another app designed for the visually
impaired to find places nearby. Users can, for example, ask for
the most popular cafe within a 200 meter radius, or to find a
post office. The app, which costs $23.99 and is available in
over 15 languages, gets location data from Foursquare. It can
also read out intersections while travelling.
John Corneille, director of gift planning at Foundation
Fighting Blindness, a non-profit based in Maryland, is visually
impaired as a result of a condition called retinitis pigmentosa.
He said that if the apps can deliver on their claims, then they
might be the tools he's been looking for.
"GPS on cars can be set to announce what street you're
approaching, or points of interest as you go, but I haven't
found an app that does those things accurately enough when
you're walking," he said.
Corneille, who also practices law, said that he uses many
apps daily, including the VoiceOver function on his iPhone,
which does text-to-speech, and Siri to dictate emails and texts.
"My assessment is that there are a lot of apps available and
most of them are very good. They really have a practical use and
function for the visually impaired, and I'm thrilled that
they're being offered," he said.
"If you're visually impaired there's no better time to be
that way," he added.
Among other apps available for the visually impaired,
TapTapSee, free for iOS and Android, allows people to snap a
photo of an object to determine what it is. For iOS, LookTel
Money Reader, $9.99, speaks out currencies in different
denominations, and Color ID, free, can help them figure out the
color of a shirt or pair of socks.
(Editing by Mary Milliken)