Despite many advances in adaptive technologies, the blind and visually impaired often struggle with living independently. In some countries, such as the United States, people with severe visual impairments often have access to technologies and social welfare programs that can assist them in achieving greater independence (although only 37% of blind adults in the United States are employed). Adaptive technologies for the visually impaired can also be limited in function, as they can be bulky and non-portable.
The situation for the visually impaired in developing nations can be even more dire, as access to even basic adaptive technologies, or even a social safety net, can be hard to come by. Those with visual impairments are extremely vulnerable, often deprived of an education, and may be destined to a life of poverty.
Fortunately, students at Florida International University participating in a social entrepreneurship project are addressing this problem: They’ve invented a pair of glasses that can read text to the wearer, in the wearer’s own language. The device, called the “Eyetalk,” allows the wearer to take a picture of printed text which is then processed by a tiny computer and delivered as a sound file to the wearer. The Eyetalk team has been working to develop the device so that it is not only lightweight and affordable, but also does not depend on access to an Internet connection. This would encourage wide distribution of the device, in both developed and developing nations.
Users of the device may have an easier time while shopping, in that they will be able to read labels and store signs. In addition, users may also be able to read menus in restaurants, as well as books that have not been translated into braille or that are not available as audiobooks. Being able to make use of information contained in books can make a significant difference in an individual’s ability to get an education and, eventually, a job.
While reading up on Eyetalk, it occured to me that the device could also be used to assist individuals who are not visually impaired, but who are unable to read. While I haven’t seen any statements from the team that has created the Eyetalk on this possible use, the technology strikes me as something that could be incredibly useful for those who struggle with learning disabilities that make reading difficult.