The technology has been key to breaking down barriers and facilitate the social integration of persons with blindness or low vision. From mobile applications, the augmented reality, readers, screens, panels brailles or devices wearable, each day is more common to support to the 285 million of people that suffer with this condition, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Because even though significant progress has been achieved, the obstacles persist. According to the National Federation of Blindness (NFB, for its acronym in English), more than 7.5 million americans have a loss of vision significant that it prevents them from performing activities normally. What is most troubling is that more than 27 per cent live below the poverty line and 22 percent had not finished their secondary school studies.
With the objective to reduce these gaps, Microsoft released in 2017 the free app Seeing AI. Thanks to artificial intelligence, through the camera of a device equipped with iOS, this app is able to read printed texts, tickets, describe physical objects, product labels, and colors, among others. A true virtual assistant to this group of the population.
The application only had an English version, but in the framework of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, promoted by the United Nations, Microsoft announced that it will be available in Spanish in addition to German, French, japanese and Dutch. This linguistic support will allow Seeing AI, that uses artificial intelligence (AI), is more accessible to the millions of people around the world who are blind and for those with low vision.
Channels and functions
Available now for iOS in over 70 countries, the application uses the camera of a cell phone to complete multiple tasks that are divided into 9 channels or functions:
- Short texts: Reads the text just appears in front of the camera
- Documents: Provides an audio guide to capture a printed page and recognize the text, next to the original format.
- Products: beeps audio to help locate the bar code and then scans them to identify the products
- People: Recognizes friends and describes the people, including their emotions.
- Scene: this Is an experimental feature that describes the environment, such as a room or a landscape.
- Currency: Allows you to identify tickets.
- Brightness: Emits an audible tone according to the surrounding light.
- Color: Describes the color perceived.
- Write: Read hand-written text
Changes in the real life
The application is based on the technology of artificial intelligence and, according to Microsoft, has helped people to make more than 20 million tasks. It has been developed on the basis of an inclusive design and the tests are made by people with disabilities through non-profit organizations around the world.
The project manager of Microsoft and co-founder of Seeing AI, Saqib Shaikh, is also blind, and highlights the changes that has meaning in this application to the lives of millions of people. “More than the technology itself, I am moved by the way people have incorporated the functions of Seeing AI in their personal lives,” explains Shaikh.
One of the examples is that of a woman who used the app to read the handwritten notes that her mother, already deceased, wrote years ago. Or of a father who used the function of short text to read the information panels and signs for the zoo to your little son, something that in the past was prevented from performing. “All of a sudden, have been able to experience that moment of parent-child and teach your small where the monkeys live or what they eat,” says Shaikh.
One of the evaluators of the app is Manuel Pereira, of France, who is blind from birth. As the director of the department of digital accessibility of the AVHassociation, an association of labor mediation for people who are blind or with low vision, believes that one of the advantages of Seeing it as a powerful kit of tools. “Contains many useful applications, such as the ability to read short texts, scan documents, to detect the light, etc, What’s most impressive is that it offers great amount of tools that you can use in your everyday life to enjoy a greater autonomy,” he adds.
Have Seeing AI in a Spanish-speaking will be of great help to the Spanish Cristian Sainz, who lost his sight in a car accident when I was 18 years old. 50 years, is responsible for the unit of digital workplace of the National Organization of Spanish Blind persons (once).
Chef and former owner of a restaurant, as Sainz points out that one of the functions that you like Seeing AI is that you can use it to know the exact steps you need when preparing your dishes. Although it has a scale that tells aloud the weights of the food, only it does so in intervals of five grams. “There are recipes in which I need a gram, not five. Now, I can get that information in a few seconds,” he says.
At the request of users, in 2019 he joined the function Scene, allowing you to explore tactually the family photos or social networks and to hear descriptions of images. With this function, it is very easy to know what information is contained in the photos. Slide your finger across the screen and the application describes where objects are in a scene,” he added.
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