2 in every 1,000 young people (under the age of 25) have vision impairment in the UK, according to the RNIB, and with future stats showing this number is likely to continue to rise with around 4.1 million people of all ages with sight loss in the UK by 2050, it’s important for us to invest thought and time in to alternative ways we can use technology to enhance education for students with visual impairment.
University life requires planning for all students and is often the first leap in to independent life. For students with sight loss this step may seem a little daunting, but it really shouldn’t be the reason not to make this jump into higher education. With the boom in technology there are some quite incredible apps which can help ignite that independence, from finding your seminar rooms without assistance to checking the sell by date on your milk required in coffee for that 8am lecture. There are apps that can positively impact your whole student experience.
Apps for students with sight loss
Seeing AI – This app is a fantastic piece of tech from Microsoft. It harnesses the power of AI to open up the visual world for those with visual impairments, it will describe nearby people, text and objects. Use the barcode and document reader to offer independence when opening confidential letters or cooking. Plus, it has some brilliant capabilities to recognise and describe faces: from gender, age, facial expression and other identifying characteristics. – We’ve had a lot of fun with this one in the office.
Google Keep - You can make simple text notes, tick lists; particularly good for shared shopping lists, take pictures and record short voice memos. Take a photo and you will have the option to 'grab image text' which will launch the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) engine that will place an editable copy of the text it finds under the original picture. You can either copy and paste this into an assignment or notes document or use it with the in-built text-to-speech available on most devices. Transcribe what is being said in real-time allowing short dictation and assistance with spelling. My favourite feature is the location-based reminders; you can set a note to notify you when you are in a specific location; your shopping list can ping you when you are in town, or the question you scribbled down to ask a lecturer will ping you when you are on-campus.
Tile app – If like me you are known for misplacing items this could be the product for you. Tile is a key finder device which works with your phone. It allows users to locate lost items through Bluetooth or where they were last seen. The app can be easily added to key rings, bags or other items, once triggered on the app the tile beeps until you locate the item. It can also be used in reverse from the tile to find your phone – excellent
Blind Square – This is an accessible navigation app. It offers users the confidence to know where they are and where they’re going. It describes the environment, announces points of interest and street intersections as you travel. In conjunction with free, third-party navigation apps it is a powerful solution providing most of the information blind and visually impaired people need to travel independently.
Be My Eyes – This app is just brilliant, not only is it free but you can be a blind or sighted user. This app connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers all over the world for visual assistance through a live video call. You could be checking the contents of a fridge or helping someone who may find themselves lost in a park. With over 1,765,788 volunteers and 102,204 blind or low vision users this app offers freedom in day to day tasks and also a great volunteering opportunity for others. A brilliant initiative.
There is always additional support for students with sight loss at university, it’s important to talk to your student support services provided within your university, it may also be good to know AbilityNet has a free helpline for students with any queries about technology and disability. If you’d like to get in touch you can call 0800 269 545, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our student resources online.