18 June 2019

Author: Miha Srebrnjak

We live in a digital world. Usually every morning, the first thing we do is check our smartphone, start browsing through news, mail and other content. And so at least for the youngest generations, the newspapers are becoming obsolete.

Of course, this is more convenient than before, as content can be further enriched with videos, multiple images, and other interactions, while the entire content can be quickly updated.

Digitalization of our world has impacted also the lives of blind and visually impaired. It has many advantages as well as some weaknesses.

Assistive technology for blind and visually impaired enables smart devices and computers to be used by B&VI. Usually through braille device or a reader. Thus we increasingly access the Internet with the help of a smartphone and a speaker. In this way, everyone can access websites, and their services, as well as view the news, send e-mails, listen to various audio content, etc. The programs themselves are able to customize the content to make them appear in the best context. However, the websites are often very graphic, which can be a huge obstacle for a blind and visually impaired user, because the text cannot be read or only partially read.

At this point, it is important to point out that the website does not need to look like from 2005, but is essential that the content is properly sorted and not too modernized. Although images represent better interaction, however, the text is also essential.

Accessing images still represent an issue in the digital world for blind and visually impaired, but it can be solved in quite a few ways. One way is to use the Feelif device. Feelif is a company that creates products for the blind and visually impaired. The application allows you to feel any image from the internet in as many different ways as possible. You can feel colors or you can set the option to recognize the outline of the object. In addition, it also uses artificial intelligence that tells what is on the picture. There are other applications that describe the image, but not from a particular website directly, so you need to transfer the image to the device and then open it in the recognition application. For videos, the best solution is audio description. This means that while the video is playing, someone else describes what's happening on the clip. It depends, however, on what type of video it is. If this is merely a narrative of people, in principle, no audio description is needed, however where there is little talk and a lot of graphical content, a blind person cannot know what is happening, and he can only enjoy the musical background that is being played.

Certain websites contain a description for each picture. But there are still very few of them; in Slovenia, I can point out portal accessible.si, which has content tailored made to vulnerable groups.

For blind people, ads that are displayed on a particular page are also disruptive, especially when in a shape of moving banners. In this case, the screen reader is a bit "confused" and throws the reader at the end of the web page. I understand that many pages only survive from ads, but I think that there could be less on each site.

When moving to the topic of other media, for example, television or radio, the blind person has the most benefit from the radio. All the information and details are transmitted there. On television, however, there is much less description, because the visual information is prevailing. Therefore, it is not practical for the blind listener. Here again, the only solution is audio-description, which is also partially implemented in Slovenia (RTV Slovenia).

The digital world is also very useful to the blind community because the need to print braille is decreasing, which saves huge amounts of paper and today’s technology for the blind and visually impaired allows us to have the majority information in the palm of our hand.

A blind person can browse through the various website, uses different mobile applications such as Facebook, Deezer, Instagram and such, but within some limitations. Some of the limitations could be eliminated quite quickly; the website creators would create them thinking about being accessible to the blind.

Let me, in the end, also mention the usefulness of smartphones. A lot of blind people, especially the elderly are afraid to use them because they are accustomed to phones with a physical keyboard. Once again, Feelif has proven to be a very special application that can turn a smartphone into superb mobile phones for the blind and visually impaired. It allows making phone calls or sending messages in a way it is easy for any blind user to use independently. Feelif Gamer is certainly a unique smart phone for blind and visually impaired, which is ideal for all ages and you can use it easily, even if you have never had the smart device in your hands.