Monday, January 5, 2009

Technology for the physically handicapped: TV Raman

Google's T.V. Raman designs technology for the visually impaired. (photo courtesy of NY Times)

Probably the most difficult aspect of working in the developing world is the general and blatant disregard that the physically and mentally handicapped are treated with. The poor and uneducated, who are already struggling to survive, see mentally and physically disabled family members as punishments from god or works of black magic (this I've heard with my own ears!). So I am always looking for technologies or ideas that are working to even the playing field for them.

The NY Times did an article about Google's T.V. Raman, who works to do exactly that. Visually challenged himself, he designs web-based (and other) technologies that cater to the blind, including Google's Android phone.

With no buttons to guide the fingers on its glassy surface, the touch-screen cellphone may seem a particularly daunting challenge. But Mr. Raman said that with the right tweaks, touch-screen phones — many of which already come equipped with GPS technology and a compass — could help blind people navigate the world.

“How much of a leap of faith does it take for you to realize that your phone could say, ‘Walk straight and within 200 feet you’ll get to the intersection of X and Y,’ ” Mr. Raman said. “This is entirely doable.”

ADVOCATES for the blind have long complained that technology companies have done a generally poor job of making their products accessible. The Web, while opening many opportunities for blind people, is still riddled with obstacles. And sophisticated screen-reader software, which turns documents and Web pages into synthesized speech, can cost more than $1,000. Even with a screen reader, many sites are hard to navigate.

Last year, the National Federation of the Blind reached a settlement of a landmark class-action lawsuit against one company whose site advocates found unusable, Target. In the settlement, the retailer agreed to make its Web site accessible to blind people. The federation assesses the usability of Web sites and currently certifies only a handful as being fully accessible.[...]
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