Seeing AI – a bridge for everyday independence

Christian Saintz using Seeing AI app on mobile phone to scan items n refrigerator
Cristian Sainz uses Seeing AI at home to scan the bar code of a jar of peaches from his fridge. Photo by Microsoft.

In 2017 Microsoft launched its Seeing AI mobile applications with the aim to make the world more freely accessible to individuals living with a visual impairment. The free IOS Seeing AI app allows users to complete multiple tasks within the one application providing audio descriptions to the user for what is in front of the camera. Features include

– Speaking short text as soon as it appears in front of the camera

– Providing audio guidance to capture a printed page

– Gives audio beeps to help locate barcodes and then scans them to identify products

– Recognising friends and describing people around you, including their emotions

– Identifying currency bills when paying with cash

– Describing colour and generating a tone for the brightness of a room

Seeing AI although initially launched with English only now has support for Dutch, French, German, Japanese and Spanish opening the door for many non native English speakers to engage in their world in their native language. 

Robin Spinks was born with albinism and has experienced partial blindness all his life. At CSUN 2020 Robin recently described how applications like Seeing AI have impacted his life as a dad. 

Using an example of family trip to the zoo Robin explained how Seeing AI had acted as as “bridge” between a dad “who can read but not see” and his young son who could “see but not yet read”. Being unable to visually identify animals beyond “a big black blob” in their enclosures, Robin and his son were able to combine his son’s sight and Seeing AI to share a learning experience utilising the animal information boards in front of the enclosures. 

Robin said “I was able to talk to my son about the black blob being a Visayan Warty Pig, and have conversations about endangered species and sustainability”. “We were able to enjoy a full day at the zoo, talking about the animals together.” These types of assistive technologies have been a “game changer” as a parent.

Robins’ wife Emma who is also visually impaired highlighted the limitations of everyday products for those with visual impairments and how new Assistive Technologies are helping to close this divide. “Something as simple and private as taking a pregnancy test becomes a challenge when despite huge advances in technology there are no accessible pregnancy test kits for the visually imparired” shared Emma.  “Image how hard it might be for a young person taking a test who doesnt want to tell anyone the results”. Applications like Seeing AI can now take a photo of the test and tell you the results, enabling an added layer of independence to a task, which sighted people often take for granted. 

Emma shares many of her experiences and wisdom as a visually impaired mum of 2 young sighted boys through her podcast One Blind Mum 

 

Robin Spinks and child
Robin Spinks and Son. Image- RNIB
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