Saturday, October 19, 2013

How Tablets are Helping the Visually Impaired

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Imagine donning a freshly-pressed suit or blouse to the office on Friday, strolling in with pride due to attention to detail, to find this Friday is the one casual day of the month? How would you feel, arriving at an October-based party, realizing you are the only one without a costume? Being different creates anxiety; we all want to fit in, to belong within our surroundings, enjoying the same benefits of others.

The sentiment relates to the visually impaired enjoying the benefits and conveniences of modern-day technological devices, such as iPads and tablets. While the advent of digital implements posed problems for those audibly and visually impeded, advancements and modifications have brought them up to speed with the masses, those who continuously leverage devices for a number of needed and wanted tasks.

One young woman leverages her tablet, which hosts popular applications and platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, iTunes and the like, with the ease of her peers, yet Jenna’s tablet interacts with her differently, leveraging sound and touch rather than sight and touch.

Jenna is not different from her peers with good sight, and interacts in the same regard as those, who like her, have visual impediments. She is one of thousands discovering the benefits of the digital world despite handicap.

Traditionally, the visually impaired use Braille, a communication system involving raised impressions to help the blind read, write, and converse with others, yet modern-day digital tablets are not fixed with raised nubs. In-device functionality, influencing the way the visually impaired interact with iPads, Android 4 tablets, and Windows 8 devices, makes the visually impaired no different from other operators.

iPad engineers aligned the tablets with VoiceOver, an audible aid element, integrated into the operating system, reading and vocalizing objects touched on-screen. A user, learning the ‘layout’ of on-screen data, learn to operate devices with no time lapses compared to peers.

Jenna can see shadows and make sense of images in light, but cannot see on-screen images and prompts; thanks to modern-day technology, she doesn’t need to see them to use her tablet several hours each day. Much of what’s she’s gathered from her five-month experience with the device was self taught.

If Jenna wants to keep in touch with classmates, she peruses her Skype friend list in an audible fashion. If she wants to send an instant message to an online family member, she activates the keyboard, double-tapping each letter until sentiments crafted.

However, her interaction with tablets does not come free of frustration. Jenna admits some applications are not aligned with VoiceOver options, making them useless to her. Additionally, one anecdote tells of a mishap involving a still-functioning VoiceOver function and multiple, erroneous purchases from an app store. Operation comes equipped with some pitfalls.

Directors and aides who help the visually impaired, direct attention toward tablets, especially iPads due to the affordability and convenience. For some, leveraging an iPad, which can modify font size, lighting, and on-screen colors, means a return to reading for many with visual issues.

A return to reading enjoyment is well worth the dollar investment for millions of people presently affected with a variety of eye diseases. Years ago, the afflicted were resigned to limited magnifiers and other reading devices deemed difficult and awkward.

What’s the cost of being different? For some, it means missing opportunities to learn new material and exchange educated messages. It’s easy to take reading for granted; it makes the visually impaired terribly uneasy in being different from peers, but iPads and other tablets assuage anxieties. A New-Jersey-based researcher found 100 participants increased reading speed by 42 words-per-minute when using iPads with modified font as compared to print books and papers.


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