The Carroll Centre for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts has a new program for youths between the ages of 14 and 21. The program is called the App Camp, and its goal is to teach participants how to use apps for their iPhone or iPad in everyday situations.
Recently, Brian Charlson, the director of the Technology Center at Carroll, took a small group of students to a local Watertown grocery store to obtain hands-on experience using apps produced exclusively for the blind. Their goal was to find items needed to make s’mores, a campfire favorite.
The first app used to complete this project was “Digit-Eyes,” which scans barcodes and uses a database to identify items. “VizWiz” was also used to identify graham crackers. This app works by posing the question of what’s on the box, as well as taking a picture. After processing the question and picture, it gave the answer “Honey Maid graham crackers.” Charlson spoke highly of both apps, saying that it was similar to having many assistants in one neat package.
When the four students went to the register, they used “Money Reader”, an app which reads bills to identify the change they got back.
While these apps are fantastic tools, there are some disadvantages. One is that if you’re totally blind and don’t wave items in front of the camera correctly, they won’t be identified. Another disadvantage of these apps is that, sometimes, these devices don’t keep up to date so the apps don’t work. Both problems can create situations where incomplete information leads to confusion.
There was also an app that could speak text on supermarket signs, indicating the items that could be found in a particular aisle. However, it couldn’t locate the chocolate bars and wooden sticks used for roasting marshmallows because they had been relocated to a different section in the store for seasonal items.
Yet another limitation is that these devices can lose their data or GPS connection when inside these large grocery stores. Since these apps all require a data connection to process results, this can be a problem depending on the signal strength at a particular location.
In spite of their limitations, these apps serve to help you become less depend on others. Greater independence yields increased confidence and will encourage users to explore the world around them on their own. Whoever thought that this incredible technology would be available ten years ago? It is truly amazing.