Alok Kaushik has a great time at work now, thanks to technology. He types away on a keyboard, but the exciting thing to note is that there’s no screen in front of him. Why do you ask? Well, because a display would not help him. Kaushik, who is a senior developer with a UK based e-commerce firm, does not require a mouse or a screen, because he is blind. This is the way software, and advancements in technology are changing the world for the better by providing the differently abled with opportunities they never thought existed for them. In this article, let’s take a look at how voice technology is bettering the lives of thousands of differently abled people all over the world.
Screen-readers to the Rescue
It is excellent to note that Kaushik can code as fast and as efficiently as any regular coder who sits beside him. Allowing him to fulfil his dream of being a software professional is an assistive software called “screen reader” which helps in converting what he types into a speech which he can hear and hence modify thereby changing his world for the better.
Coding and Photography
Much in the same fashion, in Delhi, Pranav Lal works as a cybersecurity expert for Vodafone Idea, by overcoming the fact that he too is blind. He works from Delhi and is a proficient coder who can code in several high-end and low-end languages such as Java, C, C++ and even Python. Lal, when asked about what inspires him to code and how he started, says, “I started by writing simple programs to help me with my school work and then kept working on it as I grew older.” That led to him being able to code, decode and debug complex code and has even developed an app which functions as a speech recognition software to help his fellow visually impaired brothers and sisters. Coding is not the only thing that interests Lal, who is also an accomplished photographer. He uses vOICe, which is an AI tool that helps the blind to experience the joys of live camera views by converting image to sound using a Linux OS. The application scans images from left to right and then renders them into a program which turns them into a sound wherein elevation of the camera is compared to pitch while brightness is associated with loudness and volume.
Education for All
Arman Ali, who serves as the executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People is pleasantly surprised by how far such people have come and talks happily about how thanks to the growth in science and technology, there seems to be very little they cannot do anymore. He says, “A decade ago who would have thought that the visually impaired could do coding. But with technology, especially screen readers and artificial intelligence, the visually impaired are being integrated into the mainstream workforce and are not limited to desk and accounting jobs anymore”. He believes that this change is an incredibly welcome one as it helps thousands of people around the world and prevents them from depreciating into poverty. Many disabled people around the world are getting a fair shot at a job, and a bright future due to such inventions and AI-powered tools which are also helping them receive higher standards of education which was impossible for them to dream of a decade or two ago.
The Road Ahead
JAW (Job Access with Speech) and NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) are screen readers which help the visually impaired type without worry while AI tools like Microsoft’s See AI allows the blind to “experience” people, touch, texts and objects around them, something which was impossible till recently. The biggest issue in the road forward will be accessibility as such technology is not available to all. The disabled who live in poverty in villages all over the country have still not been able to transform their lives because they do not know about and are not in touch with people who know about such advancements in science. Ali believes that the government needs to take better steps to make such technology available to people all over India. He says, “Technology is still limited to a fraction of India’s blind population. We have to make it accessible, and for that, we need the government to look at disability as a development issue and not a welfare issue.” If the government makes it mandatory for all websites functioning out of a server within India to be readable by a screen-reader, then it will inspire more and more tech companies to build their web pages and other utilities keeping in mind the disabled.
While technology has made a great deal which was earlier impossible, possible there is still a lot more we can all do to ease the journey of the disabled. Most coders complain that even now most companies make websites which are screen reader-incompatible making it impossible for them to go through it without outside help.
Voice recognition software has made it easier for them to dictate and create documents without the aid of their hands. Let us all hope that in the coming year’s awareness will increase in the general public about the difficulties faced by the disabled, encouraging them to come up with solutions to help them elevate their standard of living and live a life of dignity, much like how we do.