Not very long ago, news about developing technologies for people visually impaired or blind was not widely reported, if it was reported at all. It was also unusual for this kind of news to be attached to the biggest technology companies on the planet. All that has definitely changed!
This week Google announced an Android app called ‘Lookout’ in development to help people with vision loss identify text, objects, and people around them. The news was quickly shared by other outlets. Noteworthy because while Google has been developing accessible Android applications for quite some time, they have never really made big pronouncements about it. Lookout is expected to become available by the end of this year on Google Play in the US.
As pointed out on CNET, “Lookout is the latest in a string of smartphone apps that have in recent years replaced expensive technologies” that magnified computer screens, spoke navigation, and identified currencies and colors.
According to Patrick Clary, Product Manager for Google’s Central Accessibility Team, Lookout is designed to deliver spoken notifications with minimal interaction, so as not to require a juggling act, it is recommended to place the phone in a shirt pocket or wear it with a lanyard. It provides information in 4 modes: Home, Work & Play, Scan, and Experimental. With the smartphone camera facing out the user gets auditory cues about objects in their environment. Scan mode will read text and Experimental mode is an opportunity to try out features being developed.
The app does not require an internet connection and uses machine learning to identify items of importance and keep delivering the information people are interested in.
If this all sounds somewhat familiar, it’s probably because Microsoft brought us a similar app for iPhone, Seeing AI, less than a year ago. One would imagine Seeing AI will become available for Android and Lookout will also be available for iOS. There’s plenty of room for everyone in this new era of accessibility. And we love having choices.
Thanks, Google, you are so welcome!
About the Author
Dorrie Rush is a Visual Accessibility Expert and progressive proponent for Universal Access and Inclusive Design. She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.