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Smart Glasses, Apps, Talking Appliances: How Tech For Blind People Is Getting Better

These glasses have a camera built into the bridge over the wearer's nose, so that a remote viewer can see what is happening in front of the person wearing the glasses. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
These glasses have a camera built into the bridge over the wearer's nose, so that a remote viewer can see what is happening in front of the person wearing the glasses. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

From smart glasses with an integrated camera for reading, to apps that offer more independence and freedom, what’s some of the best new technology for people who are blind or visually impaired?

Here & Now‘s Robin Young learns more from Brian Charlson, director of technology at the Carroll Center for the Blind, and gets an in-studio demonstration of how some of these tools work.

Editor’s Note: You can watch a demonstration of the smart glasses-linked smartphone app Aira below. This post will be updated with an extended video containing all the tools discussed in this segment.

Watch on YouTube.

Interview Highlights

On technology around taking medications

“I’m going to start with the simplest of technologies, one that has a lot of impact on blind or visually impaired people, and that is our ability to take the right medicine at the right time. I’ve got a medicine bottle here, and attached to its side is a little digital recorder. … So now, instead of having to put rubber bands on to indicate whether or not this is a once-a-day or twice-a-day or three-times-a-day med, what it actually does for me, I can rely on this kind of labeling.

“This is one example of two or three different companies out there who are doing this. The one that I tend to get my medications from is a mail-order place, but I can also get this from just down the street at the local pharmacy.”

On a tool for taking blood sugar readings

“A lot of people these days are having to deal with diabetes, as am I, and therefore you have to take your blood sugar on a regular basis. So I’ve just taken a test strip out, and I’m going to slide it into my glucose monitor. … [The female voice in the monitor is] just acknowledging this, and then she’s going to tell me, ‘Please apply blood to the test strip,’ so I could prick my finger, put the blood on there and it will tell me my blood sugar. It keeps track of it over time, so that when I go to see my physician, they can download the data from it.”

Here’s more information about blood glucose monitors from the American Foundation for the Blind.

On using smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot at home

“In my household, we have a big Echo in the living room, and little [Echo] Dots here and there throughout the house.

“There’s a lot of chatter that goes on in the house, no doubt. I’m very lucky that I know Braille, so a portion of my access to information comes tactilely, so nobody gets to hear what’s going on. But one of the absolute phenomenons in my household is I get out of bed first, head to the bathroom, I turn on the shower, the sink, flush the toilet and step onto my talking scale — because I don’t want the rest of the household to hear what the bad news of the morning is from that talking scale. So we learned to mask it, we control volume and with the new Echo family, only the one closest to you responds. So you don’t have this problem of saying something down the hallway, only to have it change something in the living room, that kind of thing.”

On gadgets for cooking

“I love the kitchen. In my household, it’s my favorite room. I love to cook. And so I’m forever looking for gadgets that will make my life easier. So in my kitchen I have a talking microwave oven. I have talking kitchen scales, so that when I’m baking, I can measure by weight rather than by volume, those kinds of things. But I also have a talking thermometer. I like this one because, among other things … this I can switch from Fahrenheit to centigrade, and it can take very high temperatures.”

Here’s more information about tools for cooking from the American Foundation for the Blind.

On the Orbit Reader, a tool for reading Braille

“Braille hasn’t been around that long — just a couple of hundred years — and it’s still under development. But the big change in Braille is what’s called refreshable Braille. I’m going to turn on this Orbit Reader. Little dots, electromechanical dots, are raising up in the pattern of Braille characters. A couple of years ago, I was showing you a refreshable Braille display, and you were astounded at the price of $3,000 to $4,000. This one now costs $500. So Braille is becoming more affordable than it’s ever been before.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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