A world of new possibilities from Mobile apps to the blind and visually impaired

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Ask anyone who was around before smartphones, and they’ll tell you life was different. But for Nutsiri “Earth” Kidkul, who went blind eight years ago, life-changing doesn’t begin to describe the impact of mobile apps.

Before specialized apps came along, Kidkul would have to plan and prepare much more for basic tasks like grocery shopping, traveling or reading documents. What’s more, Kidkul often needed assistance from other people to go about her day.

“I was always at the mercy of their time or schedule,” Kidkul says.

Kidkul uses, for example, Microsoft Seeing AI, a talking camera app, to help her read her own mail and documents. She finds it convenient and accurate enough that she doesn’t have to rely on others.

“It gives me a sense of privacy to be able to sort and read my own mail without assistance from friends or family,” Kidkul says.

Over the last decade, mobile apps have evolved from silly fart programs and mindless games to services that make a massive difference in people’s lives. Accessibility jumped to the forefront roughly two and a half years ago, when giants such as Microsoft and Apple made it a priority. These apps don’t just offer superficial user interface improvements but incorporate sophisticated tech such as AI and voice recognition to provide tangible benefits like having your mail read to you.

The apps show a commitment to considering a wider, more diverse audience. But there’s a business reason too — more accessible tech means tapping new users and avoiding the backlash that may come from ignoring an underserved community. The World Health Organization estimated 1.3 billion people living with some form of vision impairment in the world as of 2018. Kikdul is among the 36 million who are blind.

During its I/O developer conference last week, Google devoted a segment of its keynote to a slew of new ways the company is tackling accessibility. Google CEO Sundar Pichai introduced features like Live Caption, which helps users transcribe audio and video, and Project Euphonia, which uses AI to help people with speech impairments. More

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