Commentary: Wearable Technology for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Over the past few years, technology developers have begun focusing on making technological devices that are portable, wearable and easy to use. Some popular examples include the Apple Watch and Fitbit. People can check their email, keep track of their diet and exercise, track the weather and so much more. As with past trends in technology, many developers are focusing on making devices that can assist people with visual impairments. The primary goal of these devices is to help those with vision loss gain more independence.

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about new wearable technologies being designed for people with visual impairments. Last week, for example, I read about research being done in India to develop a ring that can read printed documents out loud. Microsoft is also undertaking a project to make a pair of glasses that could potentially tell people who are blind or visually impaired what’s around them. This is just a small sample of the hundreds, if not thousands, of products being developed in universities and companies all over the world to help people with vision loss.

Although the concept of wearable technology is still in its early stage, we are starting to see how it will be able to help people with vision loss. A few months ago, I tried out the OrCam, a small camera that, when mounted on a pair of glasses, scans and reads out loud printed text. The OrCam – like most wearable technologies – is still under development and will need to undergo several improvements. Still, I was highly impressed by how accurate and fast it was. After just a couple of seconds, it started reading a print page in an easy to understand voice. I sure look forward to the day when I can read all print material by using a simple pair of glasses!

I began using a smartphone four years ago, and to say it opened the world to me is an understatement. Thanks to new and accessible apps, I can read books, stay in touch with my friends, know what color something is and even use GPS to travel in unfamiliar places, all with my cell phone. I sure thought that technology could not get any better at the time! Learning about the new and exciting products that are on the way makes me realize once again that the possibilities of technology are endless.

I have always believed that technology has leveled the playing field for people with disabilities in many ways. Thanks to it, we can go to school, hold jobs and be more independent. We still have much more to understand on how new wearable technology can help everyone, but I think what we have seen thus far is very promising. How do you think wearable technology will help people with vision loss or other disabilities in the near future? Please share your thoughts!

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