Tapping other senses for the visually impaired

The BBC has an article on Georgie, a suite of applications to improve smartphone usage for those with visual impairment.

Georgie from Granite 5 on Vimeo.

Developed by husband and wife Roger and Margaret Wilson-Hinds, Georgie is named after Margaret’s first guide dog. Both are visually impaired themselves and have created a user experience specifically tailored for the needs of this market, as well as applications designed to assist with every day tasks. These include using geo-tagging and audio prompts to avoid locations with dangerous obstacles and using voice recognition to dictate replies to blog posts.

Georgie works on Android devices and offers a particularly high level of integration between its applications, providing a complete user experience for the visually impaired. The interface recognises where a finger is being dragged on the screen, waits for the user to pause above a certain area and, after a beep notification, reads back the text of what’s beneath their finger tip.

The company is run as a not-for-profit social enterprise. Users can purchase a smartphone with Georgie pre-installed for GBP 299 or download the app to an existing Android device for GBP 149.

Accessible user experience has been an ongoing theme since the first MEX event, when Charlotte Grezo, then Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Vodafone, gave a presentation on how improvements to Vodafone’s accessibility practices had benefited not only those with specific impairments, but also created unexpected benefits for much wider parts of their customer base by reducing complexity.

More recently Gavin Evans and Gary Thomas of the Digital Accessibility Centre gave a fascinating insight at MEX into how visually impaired users experience mobile products. Thomas, who has a visual impairment, talked through a live demonstration where MEX participants could see the on-screen experience of several common activities on the iPad, while he explained what it felt like from his perspective. Evans then went on to explain the guidelines and iterative recommendations their team of disabled user testers are able to make when working with corporate clients to improve UX.

The reliance on audio as the primary interface channel in products like Georgie is of particular interest to MEX Pathway #9, which looks at the role of non-visual senses in user experience. This topic will again be in focus at the next MEX in September 2012, encouraging designers to think beyond the visual dimension when creating mobile interactions, and looking at how haptics and audio can become part of the prototyping process.

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