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Oratio: screen reader for the visually impaired

Try using your dear BlackBerry with your eyes closed for a minute and realize how utterly impossible that is. Well, you can probably listen to music and place phone calls, but that’s about it.

We just take our eyesight for granted all the time, and completely forget about all the people who don’t have it. How do they use their cell phones? I suppose placing calls is easy after you get the hang of it, but I really can’t imagine a blind person enjoying all the text-based benefits we enjoy every day. Not without some kind of special aid…

Canadian company Humanware is specialized in helping people with disabilities and has introduced a screen reader for BlackBerry users. It has a pretty good list of features according to the product page:

  • Manage instant messaging, emails, SMS and MMS.
  • Make and receive calls with access to caller ID on incoming calls.
  • Manage contact list.
  • Manage your call log.
  • Schedule appointments and tasks with alarms and reminders.
  • Access to the phone’s settings, ring tones and speed dials.
  • Intuitive and familiar audio user interface.
  • Easy-to-use customization options for frequently used settings.
  • Auto start mode when the device turns on.
  • Different verbosity levels to allow users to define the amount of information provided.
  • Settings control over the voice rate and pitch.
  • Keyboard echo settings for text entry.
  • Easy-to-use command structure.

The only bad news is that it is only available for the BlackBerry Curve 8520 from AT&T. Being visually impaired is not difficult enough, you’ll also have to deal with AT&T… I really hope they bring that remarkable product to other carriers and BlackBerry models. Actually, I think this is the kind of thing that should be built-in on every device. RIM, buy their product and make it a stock feature. It is a very, very good idea.

4 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. One of my good mates is blind and he uses the same type of software on his computer and (Nokia) cell phone… It’s actually pretty clever, ’cause it will read-out whatever you’ve highlighted or selected on screen, as well as the name of any key you press!

    He even uses it on the computers at work, including when he was working at a call center.

    Anyway, I agree – this sort of technology should be more widely available, because at the moment he is EXTREMELY limited in what computers, cell phones and other devices he can use…

  2. the associated pic of the blindfolded guy with a comically large, photochopped keyboard between his outstretched and wandering hands is kinda messed up, in a mean-spirited way, yo.

    at least the victims of your questionable humor are hard-of-sight and wont see it anyways, right? :/

    and to answer the question you posed, although rhetorical:
    “How do they use their cell phones? I suppose placing calls is easy after you get the hang of it, but I really can’t imagine a blind person enjoying all the text-based benefits we enjoy every day.”

    voice dialing. obviously they’re not using a display-based address book nor are most people manually dialing every time they want to make a call.

    as for text-based services the sighted use commonly, the blind community also uses them but combined with text-to-speech interface devices. you’re seeing a lot of these devices, in their software form, going mainstream lately for people who want to e-mail/text and drive at the same time.

    • I really don’t see anything humorous about that picture. It just conveys the idea of someone trying to use a computer without being able to see. It’s the very first idea I introduce in the article, because it’s something we take for granted, and I am aware that people with disabilities are ignored/neglected most of the time. I don’t think there is anything “funny” about that picture.

      Also, I don’t think that blind people need voice dialing. Note the little dot on the number 5 key, that is supposed to help blind people locate the keys. All they have to do is dial a number and bring the phone to their ear. It shouldn’t be difficult. Blind people deal with things a lot more difficult than that, like navigating a crowded street and taking public transportation. The only difficult part about placing a call is managing the address book without visual input/feedback.

      You mention text-to-speech software and, well, that’s exactly what the article is about.

      • Yeah, as I said above I have a good mate that’s blind and he’ll tell you the same thing – most blind people don’t use voice-dialing.

        Most blind people use the “dot” on the 5 key, and text-to-speech applications such as this one.

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