Innovations in accessibility technology are shattering the limitations of the blind, and helping them navigate the world. Earlier isolated and stagnant, today's digital progress allows the visually impaired to dream big, take confident steps and reach their full potential. According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide.
39 million people globally are legally blind.
82% of people living with blindness are aged 50 and above.
80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured.
These are the top five advanced technologies reaching out to visually impaired customers that ecommerce developers should consider within their roadmap:
Launched six months ago, Aira has generated so much promise that even the National Federation of the Blind has signed on as an investor. The headset is a camera- enabled set of glasses that projects its field of view to someone who can see, in a bid to temporarily "borrow" their eyesight. The device pairs to the subscriber's smartphone, through which he or she can share their live video streams with agents, people with the ability to log on, pick up a customer's call, and get paid for the hours they work. With up to 400 blind or vision-impaired subscribers, the service comes in handy with everyday tasks such as reading a sign, walking around a retail store, or checking up expiration dates on food labels. For $129 a month, a customer receives 200 minutes with an agent, while $199 provides 400 minutes with the added guarantee that an agent will pick up within 10 seconds.
Example: A legally blind man, Erich Manser ran the Boston Marathon this year with the help of Aira. He used the Aira app on his smartphone to access the camera feature linked to his Google Glass headset. Throughout the marathon, the app kept Manser connected with a sighted agent who continually provided him with details of his environment.
Originally meant to aid in laser surgery, the glasses were further enhanced to become more suitable for people suffering from color blindness. Berkeley company founders Don McPherson and Andrew Schmeder created multi-notch filtering, a special optical technology that boosts the absorption of light entering the eye's photopigments. By separating red and green wavelengths of light, the Enchroma Glasses enable the wearer to have a more normalized spectral response to the colors red and green.
Example: The glasses which are priced $350 and upwards, were recently tried out by Christopher Rooney, a red-green color blind environmental scientist, who likened the experience to dramatically increasing the saturation on a photo filter. In his words,
“[While driving] my eye seemed to catch all the green street signs and red cars in particular. ...They really stood out, to the point where it was almost distracting.”
Running entirely on AI software, MyEye from Orcam, translates visual information from a small camera into an audio earpiece. With the press of a button, the tiny wearable device can dictate words, translate text, process facial recognition, as well as identify and locate objects. The software can also commit up to 100 faces and 150 things to memory, which comes in use when searching for someone in a crowded restaurant or trying to look for your wallet. By eliminating the need for an agent, MyEye preserves the autonomy and privacy of users. The device is currently retailing for $3,500.
Example: Luke Hines, 27, of Ilfracombe, is blind in one eye and has only three percent vision in the other, the result of an operation to remove a childhood brain tumor. For many years, he felt cut off from the rest of the world, unable to attend school and find work because of his condition. MyEye has, in his words, been "life changing", and now means that he can start university.
Imitating a VR headset, eSight utilizes a high-resolution camera to magnify images and project them into a OLED screen in front of the wearer's eyes. The latest version, the eSight 3, is lighter and cheaper than previous models. It uses a high- speed HD camera and two OLED displays to algorithmically process videos in order to enhance contrast and quality. It also allows wearers to switch between nearsighted and long distance with ease, as well as manually zoom in on objects. This fully portable device is controlled using an attached remote, and comes with six hours of battery life and a price tag of $10,000.
Example: Marc Muszynski, a man who suffers from macular degeneration, used eSight to fly a plane over his hometown of Los Angeles.
A group of neuroscientists in Wisconsin developed a system through which blind people could receive optical sensations through their tongue. The BrainPort is a device that catches light signals from a camera mounted on a set of sunglasses, and translates it into electrical pulses on a tiny electric "lollipop". These pulses cause no pain, with some users describing it like Pop Rocks exploding in your mouth. With training, the pulses can be used to map out a room and navigate around a place. The BrainPort's current market value is $10,000.
Example: Erik Weihenmayer lost his vision at the age of 13, but that didn't stop him from becoming one of the world's most lauded and accomplished athletes. On May 25, 2001, he used BrainPort to become the first and only blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.