Apple’s iPhone and VoiceOver are among the greatest breakthroughs ever for accessibility but Apple never rests on its laurels. The next wave of innovation will involve what’s known as “machine learning” (a subset of artificial intelligence), which uses data from sensors on the phone and elsewhere to help make sense of the world around us. The implications for accessibility are just starting to emerge.
The latest features in Microsoft’s Seeing AI app enable the app to recognize things in the world and place them in 3D space. Items are literally announced from their position in the room; in other words, the word “chair” seems to emanate from the chair itself. Users can place virtual audio beacons on objects to track the location of the door, for example, and use the haptic proximity sensor to feel the outline of the room.
All of this is made possible by combining the latest advances in AR, computer vision and the iPhone 12 Pro’s lidar sensor. And that’s only the start.
Who knew that screen readers, unlike Web browsers, are not interoperable. Web site developers don’t worry about whether their code will work on Safari, Chrome or any other browser, but if they take accessibility seriously they have to test for JAWS, VoiceOver, NVDA and the rest. That’s about to change, thanks to the W3C ARIA-AT project.
(This session will be followed tomorrow by a live breakout session with King and Fairchild, as well as several other members of the W3C ARIA-AT team.)
Today, instant access to the written word in braille is much less available to someone who is blind than the printed word is for someone who is sighted. Tools such as single line refreshable braille displays have been available for years, but a single line at a time gives the user a very limited reading experience. This limitation is especially felt when users are reading lengthy documents or when they encounter content such as charts and graphs in a textbook. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH), and HumanWare have teamed to develop a device capable of rendering multiple lines of braille and tactile graphics on the same tactile surface. Currently referred to as the Dynamic Tactile Device (DTD), this tool aims to provide blind users with a multi-line book reader, tactile graphics viewer and so much more. (This session will be followed by a live breakout Q&A session with Greg Stilson, head of APH’s Global Technology Innovation team, and HumanWare’s Andrew Flattres, Braille Product Manager.)
Thanks to mobile phones, GPS, and navigation apps, people who are blind or visually impaired can get around outdoors independently. Navigating indoors is another matter.
For starters, GPS is often not available indoors. Then there are the challenges of knowing where the door is, finding the stairs, or avoiding the couch someone moved. Combining on-phone and in-cloud technologies like inertial navigation, audio AR, LiDAR and computer vision may be the foundation for a solution, if product developers can map indoor spaces, provide indoor positioning and deliver an accessible user interface.
As homes become increasingly more technology-driven, inputs from multiple sources—teachable AI, multimodal understanding, sensors, computer vision, and more—will create a truly ambient, surround experience. Already, 1 in every 5 Alexa smart home interactions is initiated by Alexa without any spoken command. As Alexa develops an understanding of us and our home well enough to predict our needs and act on our behalf in meaningful ways, what are the implications for accessibility?
Inventors have long been inspired to apply their genius to helping blind people. Think of innovators like Mike Shebanek (Voiceover, Apple) or Jim Fruchterman (Bookshare, Benetech), to name just two. Today, innovators have a nearly miraculous array of affordable technologies to work with, including LIDAR, computer vision, high speed data networks, and more. As a result, innovation is moving ahead at a dizzying pace. In this session, we will talk to three three product innovators on the forefront of turning those core technologies into remarkable new tools for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Accessibility awareness is on the rise, but even teams with the best of intentions can flounder when it comes to finding the right approaches. One key is to work closely with the appropriate communities of users to get feedback and understand needs. The result is not trade-offs but a better product for everyone. In this session, we’ll hear from experts on the frontline of accessibility in product development.
Nearly three quarters of mobile phone users in the world use phones built on Google’s Android operating system, not Apple’s iOS on the iPhone. For people who are blind or have low vision the key app is Google’s Lookout, which draws on the vast resources of Google’s AI infrastructure, including its computer vision database and Google maps. How is Google approaching the huge accessibility opportunity Lookout represents?
Summoning a ride from a smart phone is a dream come true for many, but when you have difficulty finding that ride, even when it’s a few feet away, the experience can be a nightmare, not to mention dangerous. How are ride-share and autonomous taxi companies working to make those last few feet from rider-to-car safer and better for blind and low vision riders?
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