By Julian Jackson of VisionBridge.
As a blind advocate for eye research and assistive technology (AT), I have a personal as well as professional interest in the ongoing tech evolution and revolution that is focusing on maximising accessibility and inclusivity for vi/blind communities in built environments.
Alongside our basic discovery scientists, there is an equally impressive cohort of technology developers in universities and the private sector who are working tirelessly to give greater independence to visually impaired individuals through the use of assistive technology, whether it is integrated into a computer, iPad, iPhone or indeed features in Smart portables or wearables.
Two stand-out examples are the fields of digital wayfinding and Smart (Crossing) infrastructure. I’m sure I speak for vi/blind communities worldwide when I say I want to remain as mobile, independent, safe, and informed as possible, as I move around the built environment. This sets the bar very high for tech developers, as we need highly accurate and reliable wayfinding solutions that do not necessarily need constant GPS connectivity, can be kept in the pocket, and navigate us from point to point both inside and outside with step-by-step description, re-routing, live update and human and/or AI support functionality. We also need to orientate to our surroundings and indeed avoid obstacles and recognise objects at the same time. One product that I am finding very helpful is the WeWalk smart cane which helps detect obstacles on a route.
Crucially, we also need to cross the road safely and this requires the ability to trigger the traffic lights on our command, armed with the appropriate assistive technology. This is brilliantly demonstrated in Smart Crossings, where a SmartButton and SmartTube have been devised alongside the SmartWrist and SmartCane for vi/blind users (https://smart-technology.org.uk/). This technology is now being retro-fitted to crossings by a number of local authorities in the UK, such as in Hull (article on smart crossings)
Until recently, AT had been over-priced, over-thought and over-engineered but those days look to be behind us. Tech developers have listened and they are now adapting their technologies in order to bring the promise of a “safe and seamless end-to-end journey solution” – that which we have all been dreaming about – into reality!
If you would like to hear more about some of the exciting new products which developers are bringing to market you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.