Microsoft app that helps the blind now available in Jamaica

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

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Blind people in Jamaica now have access to Microsoft's Seeing AI, an app that helps them to read signs, interpret someone's facial expressions and get around in the world using spoken cues in their native languages.

A news release from Microsoft's local publicists said that the app, which is free, became available in Jamaica yesterday when the American multinational technology company updated it from English only with support for Dutch, French, German, Japanese and Spanish in recognition of International Day for People with Disabilities.

“Seeing AI can describe a wide array of elements in one's environment, as users can switch between what we refer to as 'channels' on the app, depending on the type of content they wish to identify,” the company said.

“On some channels, Seeing AI will automatically read what it sees. Other times users may need to take a photo and touch their screen to get a description of the image. Additionally, users can customise the order in which the channels are shown, enabling easier access to favourite features,” the Microsoft release explained, adding that the app is available only for iOS devices with VoiceOver, a gesture-based screen reader that enables users with visual impairments to interact with their device using sound.

“It's an ongoing research project designed for the blind and low vision community that harnesses the power of AI to enrich awareness of the visual world and describe people, text and objects close in proximity,” Microsoft said.

The company pointed out that in 2008, the Jamaica Society for Blind revealed that there are over 29,000 blind and visually impaired people being served by the organisation.

“Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness and most people with vision impairment are over the age of 50.

Explaining how the app works, Microsoft said that the Short Text channel instantly reads text within the view of the phone's camera.

The Document channel uses audio cues to guide the user in capturing all corners of a document, infers the structural mark-up (elements like headings, paragraph indentation, lists, etc) and enables users to rapidly skip through the document using VoiceOver or synchronised word highlighting.

The Product channel uses audio cues to guide users in locating a product's barcode, snaps a photo when detected and then reads the name of the product as well as cooking instructions, if available.

The Person channel snaps a photo of one or multiple people and estimates their approximate location, their physical characteristics and facial expressions. Users can also program the app to recognise the faces of friends, family and co-workers.

The Currency channel identifies currency, including US dollars, Indian rupees, Canadian dollars, British pounds and euros.

The Scene channel snaps a photo to describe one's general surroundings.

The Colour channel identifies the colour of object closest to the device's camera.

The Handwriting channel reads hand-written text, while the Light channel detects the amount of light present in a given environment and emits an audible tone that changes pitch based on light exposure.

A feature named Explore photos by touch enables users to tap their finger to an image on their screen to hear a description of objects and the spatial relationship between them. Users can explore photos of their surroundings taken on the Scene channel, family photos stored in their photo browser, and even images shared on social media by summoning the options' menu while in other apps.

Recognise with Seeing AI gives users the option of describing images with other apps, such as Mail, Photos, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

Microsoft also said that the Short Text channel supports 19 languages, and can recognise and read aloud Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.


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