Technology today can allow people who are blind or have low vision to be more independent. However, it needs to be remembered that, like people with sight, not all of us have the ability to use technology to its full potential. Also, a lot of the devices available are far more expensive than many of us can afford.
I believe smartphones are one of the best inventions. Firstly, on a service provider plan they are affordable. Secondly, iPhones and some androids have built-in speech software which doesn’t have to be purchased separately.
There are apps available to perform many tasks, far too many to mention. KNFB Reader is one designed specifically for people who are blind to scan printed material. Fitbit, something we can all use to track exercise, heart rate, sleep, etc. Social networking apps such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Games, many of which aren’t accessible, but I have several which are. The list is endless!
One of the things I can do more independently now is travel. Before GPS and smartphones, whether I got off at the right tram or bus stop often meant relying on the driver or conductor remembering to tell me I’d arrived. These days, when I do ask a driver to let me know where to get off, they often forget.
On some of my regular routes it is possible to keep track of where I am by using landmarks. One way is crossing other tram tracks and knowing what roads they are. Another is knowing the route and keeping track of corners. Where none of these indicators exist, I employ a different tactic.
I LIKE TO MOOVIT, MOOVIT!
Moovit is a transport app with over 50 million users across 1200 cities. It uses GPS and real-time information and timetables for all modes of transport. I always search routes using all available transport types, but if I specifically didn’t want to be presented with a route including buses, for example, this can be specified in the search criteria.
The quickest way to bring up route options for regular trips is to set favourites. The favourites list is on the first screen when the app is opened, so all that is required is to tap on the favourite destination and the search starts immediately. There are always three options presented which tell me any walk times, what type of transports and the number if it’s a bus or tram and the total time for the journey. The start time or desired arrival time can be changed for planning ahead, otherwise that is done assuming the first three fastest routes available. Tap on the chosen route to bring up more detailed information, then tap the “live ride” button and Moovit starts tracking.
Moovit can be quite a chatty little travelling companion. It tells me when each of the lines being used for the journey is approaching. Get-off alerts for trams and buses sound when there are two stops to go, one stop to go and then to get off, whilst on trains the alerts are generally 1km and 500m from the destination station.
The one downside of Moovit for me is I find the walking instructions inadequate. I have been told they are shown as a map on the screen, but this is of no use to a person who is blind. There are some spoken directions, but I haven’t found a way to hear turn-by-turn instructions as I’m walking. Luckily there are GPS apps which work very well with VoiceOver, but it would be nice to just run one app door-to-door. Of course, I don’t need directions to places I’ve been more than once, so this situation doesn’t arise too often.
If you have questions on how to make apps and websites accessible for screen reader users, contact OutofBox Solutions. www.outofboxsolutions.com.au