The beginning of a new year is a good time to look back at the old. Here, in our opinion, are the top assistive technology breakthroughs of 2014.
Braille & Literacy
The goal of this Palo Alto based start-up, founded by 13-year-old Shubham Banerjee, is to be the first to sell low-cost, compact braille printers. They plan to sell their product for $350, much lower than the $2,000 that a personal use Braille printer goes for now.
Developed at MIT, FingerReader is currently a research prototype that assists visually impaired individuals with reading printed text. Wearing it like a ring, users will scan a line of text with their finger and receive audio feedback about the words in the line. Users also receive vibration feedback that lets them know when they are at the end of a line or have strayed from the line they were on.
Comcast X1 Platform
The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 prompted technology companies to integrate accessibility functions into their products. But for the most part, only Apple has produced blind-friendly products. Now Comcast is working to make their products more accessible with the industry’s first voice-enabled television user interface. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired will be able to navigate the television guide using the feature that reads aloud selections like program titles, networks and times. Perkins’ Library Director Kim Charlson was invited to test the talking television guide and found that she could channel-surf like everybody else.
The Bradley Watch is an elegantly designed tactile watch that makes telling time discretely possible for the visually impaired. Using raised markers at each hour, a front ball bearing that indicates minutes, and a side ball bearing that indicates the hour, the Bradley Watch is designed to be inclusive and universal, so that people from all backgrounds and walks of life can benefit from it.
ODIN VI Accessible Cell Phone
The ODIN phone is a simple-to-use talking cell phone that is completely accessible for individuals who are blind or have low vision. ODIN speaks everything on the phone’s screen in a clear voice: pressed keys, the contact list, incoming text messages, the caller ID, battery power, signal strength, the time and the date. It is ideal for someone who wants just the basic function of a cell phone.
Orientation & Mobility
SUNU, previously Ustraap, is a sleek wristband with a sensor that uses sonar technology to detect obstacles, emitting a vibration to let the user know the proximity of the obstacles that are above or in front of them. SUNU complements a cane or guide dog by providing the user with sensory feedback to develop a more complete picture of their surroundings. It can also be useful for low-vision users. SUNU was a finalist of the MassChallenge 2014 Accelerator Program and won an additional prize, the Perkins Prize for Assistive Technology.
Lechal, which means “take me there” in Hindi, is footwear that connects wirelessly with Android, iOS and Windows devices to help the visually impaired navigate. Using foot gestures or voice commands, the wearer can use Lechal to navigate or to track their fitness. Lechal communicates with the user through vibrations.
The KNFB Reader is an app available on iOS devices that takes a picture of printed material, analyzes it and reads it out loud. While a lot of devices have this function, this app has the mobility factor that is so important in today’s world.
Talkitt is an app that is able to translate speech from people with communication disabilities into clear, understandable speech. Talkitt is a 2014 Verizon Powerful Answers Award Finalist.
Blindfold Racer is an app specifically created for blind and visually impaired children that uses amazing audio technology to simulate driving a car using sound instead of sight. Blindfold racer is available as a free Download from the iTunes store.