Thursday, August 25, 2011

Interesting Fact-

Kevin A. Lynch, President and Chief Executive Officer of National Industries for the Blind (NIB)

Since the passage of the Wagner-O’Day Act in 1938, people who are blind have been a major part of the U.S. labor force by creating quality products for the federal government and military. This contribution to the manufacturing boom after the Great Depression and during World War II was decades before the signing of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)...Today, thanks to modern developments in assistive technology, people who are blind have a wide range of career options. However, the unemployment rate among working age Americans who are blind still hovers around 70 percent. Why is this?...

One issue is that employers assume they will have to invest lots of money to arrange a work environment that is conducive to people who are blind. In reality, the cost of accommodations is often nominal. Data from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) indicates that most accommodations for people who are blind or visually impaired cost less than $500. In fact, 50 percent of the accommodations required to set-up a barrier-free work station cost less than $50 and 31 percent cost nothing!

A national survey conducted by the Office of Disability Employment Policy on consumer attitudes toward companies that hire people with disabilities indicated that 92 percent of the American public views companies that hire people with disabilities more favorably than those that do not, and 87 percent would prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with disabilities.

I encourage companies to consider this information when making informed decisions about the modest investment required to accommodate this underutilized labor resource

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scientific breakthrough: Seeing with your ears

A neuroscientist has unveiled an "amazing" new device that could allow the blind to visualize what's around them, helping them to navigate through their surroundings. Though it's still just a prototype, the device, named the vOICe, was unveiled this week at the American Psychological Association meeting in Washington, D.C. It combines a set of goggles, a webcam, a smartphone, and earbuds to convert visual information into sound. Here, a brief guide to this innovation:
How does the vOICe work?
A webcam that's mounted in the goggles takes a snapshot, which is scanned from left to right by the smartphone's vOICe software program. Objects in the snapshot are assigned different frequencies and volumes, based on where they're located. Then the listener hears a "soundscape where the changes in frequency and volume correspond" to the objects in the snapshot image, again from left to right, says neuroscientist Michael Proulx, as quoted in Discovery News. If there's an obstacle such as an ottoman on the user's left, it will be represented by a shift in tone and frequency that occurs in the first part of the recording.
Is this all new technology?
Not really; the technology to convert visual signals into audio has been around for about 15 years, but with advances in phone technology, "mobiles are now smart enough to handle the required imaging software," says Tibi Puiu on ZME Science. Also, the small size of newer smartphones is what makes this technology easily portable for the first time.
Is the vOICe easy to use?
Not at first: The developer has found that "one of the biggest challenges is that it takes people three months of training to use it." But once a blind or visually impaired person gets used to the device, it's expected to give them much more independence than they would otherwise enjoy.
Sources: Discovery News, ZME Science