We continue the series about tools that make a blind employee productive in the workplace – this time looking at apps that use artificial intelligence (AI) to convert text and images into an audio format.
There are many such apps on the market, ranging in price from free to approximately R1500. The apps usually take a photograph of the text or image to be recognized and transmit it to the cloud for conversion. The process is usually fast and fairly accurate, though this may depend from product to product. The apps I usually use are Seeing AI, developed by Microsoft and available on the Apple app store at no cost, and Voice OCR Document Reader, developed by Shalin Shah, which costs around R80 at the time of writing.
I’ve also recently been looking at an app called Voice Dream Scanner, which I like since it does the conversion on the phone itself and so doesn’t need an internet connection – an asset considering the issue of confidentiality of information. It retails for around R100 on the app store and I’ve heard great reports on how well it works.
Of course, the far more important question is how apps like these could be used in the workplace.
The answer is pretty much anywhere where an employee who is blind wants or needs to access print material or even get help reading a computer screen, if for some reason the screen reader has stopped working.
Though more and more offices are becoming paperless nowadays, apps like these can still mean an employee who is blind would be able to access print documents like meting minutes and agendas, industry magazines and books, printed reports and some handwritten notes. though I fear we’re still a long way from an app that would be able to decipher my illegible scrawl!
I’m going to be stepping away from this series on tools that make a blind employee productive in the workplace for a few weeks while I share some information on one of my other passions – travel, with a special focus on travel for persons with disabilities.
But I’m far from done on this topic – there are still a lot more tools I’d like to share with you to help raise awareness of the reality that blindness shouldn’t be a barrier to employment with all the tools that are available to us.
I’m going to let you into a secret – right now I’m sitting in a small town in the middle of Normandy in France. Yes, I’m actually taking a break from what has turned out to be a wonderfully busy and exciting year.
I’ve been in France for more than a week already and have lots of stories and experiences to share with you when I get back home to Cape Town. At least Fiji’s still keeping the home fires burning, or there wouldn’t have been a blog post last week!
Anyway, I hope you don’t mind if I keep this post short. I still have lots of things to do and places to see and don’t want to wait a moment longer to get out and see what else Bayeux has to offer.
The very first day mom brought me home from guide dog training school I had a meeting with my new doggy siblings, Eccles, Emily and Calvin. They told me that mom and dad were already mostly well trained, with one exception – we weren’t allowed to sleep on the furniture.
I gave the matter some thought and decided it would be okay to just sleep on the warm and comfy blankets scattered around the house. Except for anytime mom went out and forgot to take me with her – of course I’d curl up on the couch then. But never when mom and dad were home.
Everything changed the day my doggy sister Allie came to live with us.
When she walked into the house Allie leapt up onto the couch and curled up. No matter what dad did, she’d somehow find her way there. When he eventually put planks of wood across the couch she simply tried pulling the cushions out so she could sleep on them. And landed up tearing the cushions to pieces.
After two weeks dad gave up… and the no-couch rule went out the window.
It took a little time for my doggy sister Emily and I to break the years of no-couch conditioning. Then we decided to try our luck. Because, ultimately, it would be horribly unfair if mom and dad yelled at us for doing something that Allie was allowed to.
Now, though we don’t do it often because we have beautifully comfy dog beds, Emily and I sometimes curl up on the couch as well.
Which only goes to prove that you can teach old humans new tricks!
Hmm, I wonder if we can train mom and dad to let us sleep on the bed as well. It might be worth a try…
The photo shows Allie asleep on the couch.
Do you know how hard it is to video Fiji guiding me across a road? It should be easy, right? But maybe not so much when you have one hand on the guide dog harness and the other hand providing dog treats at each step of the process. Because that leaves no hands to hold the phone to record the whole thing.
So, when a friend asked if she could video Fiji working as part of a lesson for one of the schools she works with, I jumped at the chance. Even better, she asked if Fiji and I could speak to the learners as well, which I’m always happy to do. Okay, I got to speak to the learners. Fiji only had to look cute- which she does very well!
Shani gave me the video – so here it is!
Craig, please add link here.
Those of you following this series of articles about tools to help a blind person be independently productive in the workplace may be asking how we engage with paper documents and physical objects we need to operate.
The answer is quite simple – there’s an app for that! It’s called Be My Eyes, is free to download onto a mobile phone and is available on both IOS and Android phones.
Here’s how it works: I open the app on my smart phone and hit the “Call Next Available Volunteer” button. My data call gets picked up by one of the volunteers, who are able to use the phone camera so I can borrow their eyesight to identify objects, read printed material or a computer screen (or even handwriting). The volunteers can also help me find dropped objects or help me navigate around places.
Can you see how this would help someone who is blind in the workplace?
It can help me do anything from reading print material to using the coffee machine in the workplace. As a blind person, one of my greatest challenges is access to printed information. With an app like Be My Eyes that’s no longer such a problem.
With more than 2 million volunteers around the world, speaking more than 190 languages, and less than 200 000 visually impaired users so far, I’m sure you’ll realize I won’t be waiting long for my call to be picked up. The calls are free, and you can call as often as you need to.
Imagine how an app like Be My Eyes can empower someone who’s blind, not only in the home, but in the workplace as well.
You can find out more about Be My Eyes on their website: www.bemyeyes.com or on social media.
Of course, Be My Eyes is only one of the tools we ca use in the workplace to access information – next time I’ll be looking at some of the multitude of apps using artificial intelligence to help us access the information we need to be productive in a job.
Back in the dim and distant past when I became blind, using a computer was a very different process from what it is now. Back then I had to use a special computer that barely resembled the computers my friends were using, and the amount I could do with it was limited.
Nowadays I, and many other blind people, use a standard laptop or desktop together with a software application called a screen reader. With a screen reader we’re able to accomplish almost anything that a sighted person can. Which means that we should be able to fulfil the requirements of most of the many jobs requiring the use of a computer.
Essentially, a screen reader is a programme that allows us to interact with a computer using audio. We have the option to either type or dictate to create documents, e-mails, spreadsheets or other text-based programmes. We can access menus, online content and documents created by others using the audio functionality. And there are ways we can access the content in images, graphs and diagrams.
So why then do so many people have difficulty in believing that a blind person could be successful in a job?
Maybe they believe that the software to allow a blind person to use a computer is expensive. And, certainly some of the screen readers do have a cost associated with them – as do many other software programmes used in business. But there are many different types of screen readers available nowadays, at a range of price points.
In fact, screen readers are in-built into several operating systems at no extra cost – IOS/Mac, Android, Microsoft are a few that spring to mind. That’s not to mention the many other applications that are out there – JAWS, Supernova, NVDA to name but a few.
And sure, each of these differ in what they offer and what they cost. But, for the purposes of this article, that’s detail and would depend on the preferences of the individual, the needs of the organisation, and the tasks required.
My point remains the same – with so many jobs being accessible to someone who is blind, why aren’t there more blind people being employed?
If you want to learn more about how I use a computer in my work life, please feel free to contact me through my website: www.loisstrachan.com and let’s chat about what I can and cannot do using a computer… I’m almost willing to bet you’d be amazed!
In my next article in this series I’m going to be talking about an app that helps the blind community to access print material and other physical objects more easily – or, maybe I should say one of the ways, since there are a few that I’ll be talking about in this series.
It was my birthday on Friday. My 5th birthday, to be exact. And I celebrated in the best ways possible!
My celebrations started on Thursday evening when mom, dad and I went out for dinner. And the whole team from the Cape Town office of the SA Guide-Dogs Association were there to wish me for my special day. I know they said they were there for a work function because one of the alphas was visiting from Johannesburg, but I’m sure they were really there for me.
Then, dad took me and my doggy sister, Allie, for a run on the evening of my actual birthday. It was lots of fun and it didn’t even rain while we were running, which was even better.
And then I got a big marrow bone to chew on Saturday. My doggy sisters Emily and Allie also got bones. That’s because I was brought up to believe that sharing is caring. Besides, if they hadn’t also got bones to chew, they’d have tried to steal mine.
The only thing that would’ve made my birthday better is if mom and I could’ve gone for a walk… but when mom went outside to check the weather, she found it was raining. So I had a good play with mom and my sister Allie instead.
Mom asked me if I considered myself to be 5 or 35, which I believe is the human age equivalent. If it’s all the same, I think I’ll stick to being 5… from what I’ve seen of humans, 35-year old’s have far less fun than 5-year old’s!
To some people stepping into a revolving door may not be much of an issue. But for me, standing there with my white cane, stepping into the revolving door was a matter of deep thought and planning.
Here’s why I find revolving doors scary:
1 Stepping in– as a blind person you have to figure out when it’s safe to step in without being hit by a door blade.
2 Walking through – it’s not easy to assess the appropriate walking speed to avoid connecting with the blade in front or being smacked on the back of the head by the one behind you.
3 Stepping out – sometimes it will sound different when it’s okay to step out of the door… but sometimes it’s not – I’d hate to spend the rest of my life walking round and round in circles captured by the revolving door.
Is it any wonder I call them revolting doors?
Let’s go back to where you left me – standing with my white cane on the outside of a building, with the revolting door in front of me. What happened next?
I found the right-hand side of the revolting door and gently extended my hand along the doorframe until my fingertips brushed against the edge of the blades as they passed. I let a few blades pass me so I could get an idea of how fast they were turning. That way I could gain a sense of when it was safe for me to step into the door and how fast to walk.
I knew the door would stop moving if I touched the blades so there was no risk of being knocked out by a mindless rampaging blade. Once or twice I accidentally tapped the tip of my white cane into the blade in front of me and the door froze. I’ll admit it was reassuring to discover how sensitive the door was.
And so I made my way through the door.
Stepping out was my biggest worry. In the shopping centre where I was putting my skills… and my courage… to the test I wasn’t able to use sound to judge when it was time to step out of the door. But a very kind gentleman, who I hadn’t realized was walking alongside me, told me I could step forward into the centre and all was okay.
Did I manage to travel through the revolting door totally independently? No, I didn’t. but here’s what I did achieve – I managed to push my way past the fear of using a revolting door on my own. Even if I did get help stepping out of the door, I’m sure I would have figured it out on my own eventually, and not spent the rest of my life walking in circles.
Next time I’ll do even better. Because I’ve proved to myself that there’s nothing to fear
So, maybe those doors aren’t so revolting, after all.
Over the past few weeks I’ve given you a few teasers of what happened on my trip to Makhanda to perform in a show at the National Arts Festival 2019. Of course, there’s far more I could tell you about, but here’s a general overview… and a final surprise.
First, a huge shout out to everyone involved in the show. I had great fun getting to know the other performers, their sighted assistants and the amazing crew who worked with us. The entire trip was filled with special moments, laughter and fun. Whether it was sitting in the Pothole and Donkey pub cheering on others from the group who took to the stage to play a few songs, relaxing over supper and a glass of wine at one of the local restaurants with some of the group, or comparing experiences as we sat backstage waiting for the show to start.
One memory that will remain with me was sitting backstage on the second day. One of the performers, PJ Durr was idly running through one of the songs he was going to be performing, Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game. Our show director, Niqui began adding harmonies … and it wasn’t long before Gavin, Laurice and I added our own harmonies.
I know I haven’t really blogged about anything but the show. That’s because the show was the focus of our time in Makhanda. However, we did get some downtime – visited some great local restaurants, and I even got to see one other show. Fiji joined Craig on two runs – the Makhanda park run and a run through Makhanda and the surrounding area. And Craig and Afsana got to see a few shows and sample a few exhibitions and markets.
I will admit I was startled to see three donkeys pilfering from refuse bins as they strolled down the main road. And my surprise was nothing compared to Fiji’s. But I guess that’s just what happens in Makhanda!
A week after we got home we heard that our show had been awarded a Standard Bank Ovation Spirit of the Fringe award. Which rounded off the whole experience perfectly!
Here’s how the Standard Bank Ovation Awards are described on the National Arts Festival website:
“The Standard Bank Ovation Awards celebrate artistic innovation, excellence, the exploration of new performance styles and the courage to open new conversations during the National Arts Festival held in Makhanda.”
You can see all this year’s award winners here: https://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/news/naf2019-ovation-awards-ceremony/
I’d definitely return to the National Arts Festival – I’d love to see more shows, spend time browsing the many attractions and immerse myself in the atmosphere of this amazing annual event.
The photo shows all the Blind Date performers and their sighted assistants… and Fiji… onstage right at the end of the show, just before taking our final bows.
When mom and I were in Makhanda the last thing I expected was to have an all-too-brief playdate with another guide dog. So, when mom, dad and I slipped away from the farewell meeting of all those involved in the Blind date Concert and disappeared into the depths of the SA Library for the Blind building I wasn’t certain where we were going.
Much to my joy, we turned a corner and there was a black Labrador – a guide dog named Vanilla. Well, to be exact, a recently retired guide dog named Vanilla.
And it was such fun to say hello and exchange quick nose sniffs and tail wags. I could tell that Vanilla wasn’t very well – mom told me later that she had cancer – so I was careful to be gentle while also having a good play.
Sadly, Vanilla has since gone to doggy heaven, but I know she’s having great fun playing there with all the other guide dogs, including my aunts Leila and Eccles.
I’m just glad I got to meet her, even if we had to rush off to catch the bus for our trip home to Cape Town.
The photo is of me and mom and Vanilla and her mom, Pasha.