Jun 3, 2022
This podcast is about big ideas on how technology is making life
better for people with vision loss.
People who are blind or visually impaired know all too well the
challenges of living in a sighted world. But today, the
capabilities of computer vision and other tech are converging with
the needs of people who are blind and low-vision and may help level
the playing field for young people with all different sensory
abilities. These tools can pave the way for children’s active
participation and collaboration in school, in social situations,
and eventually, in the workplace, facilitating the important
contributions they will make to our world in their adult lives.
Access to educational materials is a consistent challenge for
students and adults who are blind, but Greg Stilson, the head of
Global Innovation at American Printing House for the Blind (APH),
is trying to change that. Together with partner organizations Dot
Inc. and Humanware, APH is on the verge of being able to deliver
the “Holy Braille” of braille readers, a dynamic tactile device
that delivers both Braille and tactile graphics in an instant,
poised to fill a much-needed gap in the Braille textbook market.
Extensive user testing means the device is as useful for people who
are blind as possible. Greg sees a future in which more inclusively
designed and accessible video games, augmented reality (AR), and
virtual reality (VR) will help children who are blind learn with
greater ease, and better engage with their sighted peers.
Enter Dr. Cecily Morrison, principal researcher at Microsoft
Research in Cambridge, UK. Based on extensive research and
co-designing with people who are blind, she and her team developed
PeopleLens, smart glasses worn on the forehead that can identify
the person whom the user is facing, giving the user a spatial map
in their mind of where classmates (as one example) are in space.
PeopleLens helps children who are blind overcome social inhibitions
and engage with classmates and peers, a skill that will be crucial
to their development, and in their lives, as they move into the
cooperative workspaces of the future.
The Big Takeaways:
- Robin Akselrud, an occupational therapist and assistant
professor at Long Island University in Brooklyn, author of MY
OT Journey Planner and The My OT Journey Podcast,
explains how a baby who is born blind becomes inhibited from their
first developmental milestones. She explains the stressors that
these children might face upon attending school and describes the
kinds of interventions that occupational therapy offers.
- Bryce Weiler, disability consultant, sports enthusiast, and
co-founder of the Beautiful Lives Project, emphasizes how important
it is for children who are blind or low-vision to have rich sensory
experiences — and life experiences — which give them a chance to
flourish and socialize with peers. Beautiful Lives Project offers
opportunities to do that.
- Greg Stilson, Director of Global Innovation at American
Printing House for the Blind, and his team are developing a dynamic
tactile device (DTD) that can switch seamlessly between Braille and
tactile graphics — the “Holy Braille” of braille devices. The DTD
is made possible by developments in pin technology by Dot Inc, and
APH. Humanware developed the software for the device. No longer
using the piezoelectric effect to move pins has reduced the cost of
the device significantly, and APH can funnel federal funds to
reduce the price further, making the DTD a potential, viable option
- Cecily Morrison, principal researcher at Microsoft Research in
Cambridge UK, and her team developed PeopleLens, a head-worn pair
of smart glasses that lets the wearer know who is in their
immediate vicinity. Dr. Morrison and her team tested it in
classrooms for school-age children who are blind or visually
impaired and found that PeopleLens reduces students’ cognitive load
and helps young people overcome social anxiety and inhibitions that
Robin Akselrud described at the top of the show. Wearers of
PeopleLens learn to develop mental models of where people are in a
room, and gain the confidence to engage others, or not, as they
choose. Once social skills are built, students no longer have to
wear the device but are set up for more successful social
interactions at school and in their lives to come.
- If they have a visual impairment, it really impacts them from
early on, from that first development milestone. — Robin Akselrud,
occupational therapist and assistant professor at Long Island
University in Brooklyn, author of MY OT Journey Planner and The My
OT Journey Podcast
- For children, just giving them that foundation of making
friendships as they’re growing up, and the opportunity to be a part
of something, sport can allow them to do that, and it also gives
them the chance to do things that their peers are taking part in.
—Bryce Weiler, disability consultant, sports enthusiast, and
co-founder of the Beautiful Lives Project
- This was what the field regards as the “Holy Braille” right?
Having both [Braille and tactile graphics] on the same surface.
—Greg Stilson, Director of Global Innovation at American Printing
House for the Blind
- With the advancements of virtual reality and augmented reality,
… along with the idea of making experiences and video games and
things like that more inclusive, it’s going to create a more
inclusive way for blind kids to engage with their sighted peers. —
Greg Stilson, Director of Global Innovation at American Printing
House for the Blind
- We found that “people” was the thing that was most interesting
to people. And that doesn’t surprise us. We are people, and we like
other people. — Dr. Cecily Morrison, principal researcher at
Microsoft Research in Cambridge UK
- They can go out and find someone that they want to play with.
They can choose not to talk to somebody by turning their head away
from them, and the moment that they understand the agency they have
in those situations is when we see a significant change in their
ability to place people and to engage with them. — Dr. Cecily
Morrison, principal researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge
- When we look at the workplaces of today, they’re often very
collaborative places. So you can be the best mathematician in the
world, but if you struggle to collaborate, you’re not building the
AI technologies of tomorrow. By helping kids ensure that they have
a strong foundation in these attentional skills, we’re giving them
a significant lift. — Dr. Cecily Morrison, principal researcher at
Microsoft Research in Cambridge UK
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your innovative
new technology ideas for people with vision loss.