What Blind Football Taught Me About the Digital World

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Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to have my eyes opened. The Tel Aviv Port held an interactive disability awareness event that aimed to help those of us without physical or sensory disabilities to better understand the day-to-day challenges of people with special needs.

The event powerfully and effectively turned the tables. Watching a game of blind football (the sport you Americans strangely call “soccer”) was a glimpse into another world. The game is played by chasing a ball that chimes when it moves. It was astonishing to see how the players’ other four senses made up for their lack of sight. Incredibly, teammates worked together with little or no communication. They knew their jobs, trusted their teammates implicitly, and stuck to their tasks.

Blind football was just 1 of some 30 stations. Other activities included using a wheelchair to get through an obstacle course, tasting ice cream while blindfolded, and walking through a crowd blindfolded with the help of a guide dog.

Whilst Tel Aviv was raising awareness, I decided to check out what the digital world was doing to enhance accessibility.

I was amazed at what I found. Here are five apps that really stood out to me in how they harness today’s cutting-edge technology to improve the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities.

Blindsquare: — BlindSquare is a new app that’s making use of Foursquare’s two billion check-ins worldwide to help visually-impaired pedestrians find locations on foot or with public transportation. BlindSquare integrates Foursquare data with Apple’s native VoiceOver technology to create a location-based virtual map through sound. When the app is enabled, it reads aloud addresses, street names, and surrounding locations. Directions are available on demand.

MobileEye (Prototype) — MobileEye recently won the Microsoft Imagine Cup for best app. Their vision (no pun intended) is to bring the richness of visual information to blind people using mobile phone cameras. This app enables people to take pictures of their surroundings and hear their phone describe what it “sees.” MobileEye uses a mixture of human intelligence (crowd-sourcing technology) and artificial intelligence to provide vital information about what is being “seen.”

Proloquo2Go — Before the iPad and similar devices hit the market, using touch-to-speak technology was incredibly expensive, costing thousands of dollars. Now, it’s available at a fraction of the price, making this assistive technology much more accessible to children and adults who cannot talk. With apps like Proloquo2Go, a non-verbal person can communicate exactly what he or she wants with a simple tap of the screen. The app can be customized with photos or features to meet each user’s individual needs.

iDress for Weather — Jeremy Brown, an elementary school teacher for autistic children, believes the iPad is a great supplemental tool for instruction, estimating that 80% to 90% of his students with autism see great results when using iOS devices. The iDress for Weather app shows users what types of clothing to wear based on the day’s weather forecast. This seemingly simple app supports and promotes independence, confidence, and social learning for individuals with learning difficulties.

iPhone VoiceOver — The final feature is not actually an app, but a phone. The iPhone caters to disabilities in a way that is unlike any of its rivals. Apple's VoiceOver and Siri features are a big plus, as they allow people without sight to browse and control the iPhone's touch screen, listen to their text messages, and even check things like stocks and weather.

We all choose apps because they improve our quality of life. These apps take that to a whole new level.