In a world where technology is constantly evolving, the web is a necessity in our daily lives. While we take our ability to quickly scan through sites for granted, the layout of content and unclear labeling are some of the biggest barriers for the visually impaired. Many apps and features have already been created in order to help the blind enjoy the benefits of the physical and online world but there is still more work to be done.
As of now, there are special phones that have been created specifically for the blind, such as Ray, and several apps that can be used through smartphones. Leading companies such as Apple are joining the efforts and constantly trying to bring more options to the market including the Apple Watch which can read your messages aloud via Voice Over, allowing the user to navigate without needing to see the screen, and the Taptic Time option which allows for distinct taps to play out so that the blind can feel the time.
Some of the better-known apps are the navigation apps (like Ariadne GPS), which help the blind explore the city beyond their comfort zone while keeping them safe, by signaling crossing a street with a vibration and announcing the stops on a bus or train. Apps have been developed in order to allow the blind to virtually see color (Color ID Free), money (LookTel Money Reader) and so much more. As new apps are introduced, the most helpful tool till today is still a program known as text-to-speech or a screen reader. These programs help the blind by using voice to read aloud the website’s content, as well as e-mails, tweets, weather and Facebook feeds.
Even though the element of voice is still the most helpful one regarding text, there is yet to be an app or computer program that is able to describe pictures properly. Facebook tried to help out by introducing an image recognition feature but this didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped, since even though Facebook may recognize the friends who are tagged in the picture it cannot describe the rest of the elements accurately.
Crossing Barriers with Voice
This problem becomes a more serious issue when it comes to shopping online, as this is when the ability to describe a product correctly is most important. While the text-to-speech program tries to describe the site elements as best it can, when it comes to pictures the situation can quickly become a frustrating one for the visually impaired. For most of us, shopping online saves us a lot of energy as it’s done from the comfort of our home but if the website is not made clear enough to navigate through and the screen reader is not capable of describing the product properly, the advantage of online shopping is lost for the blind.
Besides the important element of seeing the product, another way to ensure we make a good buy is by reading the reviews. Research has even shown that as many as 88% of users trust online reviews as much as they would personal ones. Through voice reviews, the blind will easily be able to listen to them and receive a clearer and more accurate description of the product, and just like every shopper, be able to make a calculated decision on whether to buy the product or not. The text-to-speech limits will be less of a barrier and voice will once again provide a more positive experience as visually impaired consumers enjoy the convenience of shopping online.
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