Smartphones unlocked for the blind

2015-06-16 06:01
Visually impaired Michelle Botha shows how she uses her smartphone.
Tiyese Jeranji

Visually impaired Michelle Botha shows how she uses her smartphone. PHOTO: Tiyese Jeranji

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Phones have become an essential part of our daily lives.

With technology advancing every day, some are also working tirelessly to ensure that no-one is left out of this world of ever-evolving technology.

Vodacom, in partnership with the Cape Town Society of the Blind (CTSB) in Salt River, created a unique kiosk to bring the benefits of the latest smartphones to the blind.

The kiosk, launched on Tuesday last week, will be operated by CTSB staff trained to demonstrate the advantages of text-to-speech software on the latest touchscreen phones.

The CTSB will also benefit financially from the sale of starter packs, M-pesa and airtime at the kiosk.

The text-to-speech function makes it easier for visually impaired people to communicate using their smartphones. It is now built into the phone, making life much easier for users.

Visually impaired Michelle Botha (27) uses an iPhone 5 and says this initiative is great because, nowadays, communication doesn’t happen verbally anymore. “We are able to connect and check what’s happening on social media. Gone are the days when we used to ask someone to read a text for us. Now we have our privacy and we can make use of the speech function to listen to the messages that we get as well as to respond,” she says.

While using a smartphone when visually impaired isn’t a walk in the park, Botha says the most important thing is to play with your phone and get to know it.

“It’s just like any other flatscreen phone that anyone can use. But we have to know the icons so that it will be easy to use the phone. But the speech texts really help a lot,” she says.

Lizelle van Wyk, CEO of CTSB, says this is a great milestone that they have been waiting years for.

“What we like most about these phones is that the visually impaired are freed from being dependent. There are specially built apps that will allow them to know exactly where they are or when to catch a bus, get printed texts, listen to books and be able to read news and be up to date on what’s happening around them. Most of all it will help them accomplish important tasks. The kiosk will really help in bridging the gap between the visually impaired and those who are not blind,” says Van Wyk.

Albert Breed, managing executive of Vodacom Western Cape, says it’s wonderful that they are able to put something together to benefit people who are visually impaired.

“It enhances the people’s lives so that they can do all the things that normal people can do. This will unlock the world of reading and the internet and they will now be able to function much more effectively,” says Breed.

Vincent Daniel, CTBS public awareness officer, says the partnership is working towards making the kiosk a one-stop space for everything.

“This will really help a lot of people that are blind. In the past people struggled to use their phones and they had to ask for help, but that will be a thing of the past. These phones are enabling us to do things on our own and we are encouraging people to make use of the kiosk to enrich their lives and to keep connected with the rest of the world,” says Daniel.

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