Smartphone app opens the world for the visually impaired

Updated 2017-09-23 10:00:51 Xinhua

After a long day at work, Yang Haitao pulls out his smartphone, opens the WeChat social networking app, and asks one of his friends where they should meet for dinner.

While this seems normal for many people, it's significant for Yang, who is blind and previously couldn't use a smartphone.

Yang, 35, is a chiropractor at the Gansu Provincial Hospital Rehabilitation Center. Born blind, he missed out on many basic aspects of life growing up.

"I can't cook and I get anxious when cab drivers drop me at a place I'm unfamiliar with, so in the past I often didn't do anything after work," he said. "But now I have my smartphone."

Yang's Huawei smartphone is filled with apps for map navigation, online shopping, music, car hailing, and food delivery services, similar to those of any smartphone owner.

"My life now is much more convenient and colorful," he said.

Yang uses an app called "Protection and Ease," that reads aloud text on the smartphone screen. It's the brainchild of a team led by another blind man, Cao Jun.

Cao, who was diagnosed with congenital cataracts, previously taught the blind and visually impaired how to use computers. He began research and development for mobile screen reading software in 2008, when few other developers were paying any attention to the sector.

Cao sold his home to start his business and invited IT professionals to join the project. "I convinced them to come onboard by telling them that they do would change the world for blind people," he recalled.

The team designed the screen reading app in 2013. To date, 430,000 visually impaired people have downloaded it.

This year, Cao's team cooperated with Chinese IT giant Baidu to add an image reading function to the app so that words in images can be read aloud. Voice assistant software has also been developed to help the visually impaired use smart furniture and appliances.

China has about 13 million visually impaired people, and about 6 million of them have smartphones, according to China Information Accessibility Product Alliance (CAPA).

Last year, a document jointly issued by China Disabled Persons' Federation and the Cyberspace Administration of China required the websites of government departments at various levels be accessible by disabled people by 2020.

Gansu Province provides training for the visually impaired on how to use smartphones and computers.

Chang Wei, chairman of Gansu Association for the Visually Impaired, said modern technology has not only improved their quality of life, but also helped the visually impaired to study, integrate with society and gain self-confidence.

Yang has downloaded some e-books about massage on his smartphone.

"With my phone reading the books to me, I can become a better chiropractor," he said.

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