Innovation Blog 

How Technology Helps Those with Disabilities:  iPad, GPS and more

By Shlomo Maital

  iPad SayText


 The latest Bloomberg Businessweek issue has an interesting article on how iPad helps those with disabilities.  I’ve also collected several examples.  The disabled are, alas, much too numerous for us to be complacent, but many too few to form a large profitable market.  And the market is fragmented, because the variety of disabilities is very large and diverse.  Nonetheless, if more bright innovative minds were put to work on this problem, the lives of many of the disabled could be changed. Here are some examples.

● “Jonathan Avila uses his iPad in ways most people might not realize are possible: The device reads e-mail to him while he’s traveling to work, tells him which way to walk when he is lost, and even lets him know if there’s a sidewalk on the other side of the street. Avila needs these features because he’s visually impaired.  “Work bought it as a testing device, but I’ve claimed it as my own since it makes me more efficient,” says Avila, chief accessibility officer for SSB Bart Group, a firm that helps companies implement technology for people with disabilities.”

●  “Dorrie Rush is marketing director of accessible technology at Lighthouse International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting vision loss . She was diagnosed with early-onset macular degeneration. Twenty years later, her visual acuity is low, although she retains some peripheral vision.  “I used to be on the bus and I would see people reading the newspaper and I’d be so jealous,” Rush says. Then she bought an iPhone and downloaded the New York Times (NYT) app.  Her phone now reads the news to her on the bus each morning.” 

●  I have a friend whose startup is developing software to convert a smartphone with GPS and camera into a device that gives vocal instructions to the blind regarding where they are and how to proceed to their destination.

●  “Workers who find it difficult to speak because they have cerebral palsy or have suffered a stroke once needed to spend thousands of dollars on speech-generating devices. Instead of shelling out $3,000, they can now buy an iPad for $500 and an app called Proloquo2Go from AssistiveWare that sells for about $190.”

● “For people who need to read office memos or other printed materials, Freedom Scientific sells a scanning and reading appliance for $1,800. Alternatively, there’s a free app called SayText that uses the camera from the iPhone 4 to take a photo of a document, prompting the app to read the text aloud. The same app can be used to take photos of business cards, after which the contact info is automatically scanned and uploaded into the phone’s contact directory. Similarly, ZoomReader, an app from Ai Squared that sells for about $20, reads the text in images from the iPhone 4 camera.”

● “Identifying money can be a challenge for visually impaired or blind people because a $1 bill comes in the same size and color as a $100 bill. Reizen sells a portable money reader on (AMZN) for $99.95.  In March the LookTel Money Reader app was released for the iPhone, selling for just $1.99. In April the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing released EyeNote, a free money reader.”

   Actually my initial statement, about how the market for disabled-assistive technologies is limited, may be wrong.  According to Rachel King,  “The global market for assistive technologies, including those used in the home, is projected to reach $40.9 billion in 2016, up from $30.5 billion this year, according to a report from BCC Research that’s scheduled to be released this month.”  Part of the reason is our aging society – the baby boomers, as they age, are going to need more and more assistive devices, and many of them have the money to pay for them.

   Innovators – can you help the hearing-impaired, visually-impaired, those unable to walk?  What better way is there to do good, and perhaps to do well, as well.

* The IPad’s Secret Abilities, by Rachel King.