Apps to revolutionize the daily lives of people with disabilities

Apps to revolutionize the daily lives of people with disabilities

Advances in artificial intelligence now allow people with disabilities to gain independence. And to discover new horizons.

It’s 9 a.m., the alarm goes off on the Google Home – a connected and intelligent speaker – installed above Viknesh’s bed. “OK Google, turn off the ringtone,” the young man stammers as he stretches to give himself the strength to start his day. “OK Google, what’s the weather like in Paris today?” » he continues, once he wakes up. “The temperature is 0 degrees and it’s snowing,” replies the voice assistant. Every morning, the ritual repeats itself for this 28-year-old visually impaired person. He starts his day by conversing with this voice, certainly virtual, but which has become central to his daily life.

Once on the street, the Transit application takes over to support him. Used in audio description mode, it becomes Viknesh’s best ally for getting around town and defining its routes. Cane in hand, phone slung around his neck and wireless headphones in his ears, he lets himself be guided by voice instructions. When the driver opens his doors, Viknesh gets on the bus with a confident step, without wavering. The passenger behind him nods his head, as if to acknowledge a dexterity that he considers unusual for a visually impaired person. In his ears, his “co-pilot” told him the precise waiting time and where to position himself.

Hear an image

Gray cap placed on his brown hair, the young man of Indian origin taps on his phone during the journey. Its screen displays the photo of a young woman in front of the Cheops pyramid. He smiles. His friend Tatiana, traveling in Egypt, has just sent it to him and although Viknesh obviously cannot see it, he can hear it thanks to the Be My Eyes application. This Danish artificial intelligence (AI) analyzes all the details of the image and lists them: colors, weather, characters, objects, remarkable cultural or historical places, facial expressions… A description far from being superfluous. “I lost my sight at 5 years old and I keep a lot of memories of what I saw as a child, so I can project myself mentally. » In a society where image is king, this technology allows him, no longer through eyes but through hearing, to maintain his friendships and cultural references. The use of this software has become daily, if not permanent, in Viknesh’s life. Once seated on the bench of the café where he has a meeting, he scans the menu with his phone camera. A new AI runs and tells it what drinks and dishes are available. This time, it’s called Seeing AI. “The principle is simple: everything that a blind person cannot see with their eyes, their camera can describe it to them” explains Philippe Trotin, director of the Disability and digital accessibility mission of Microsoft France, developer of the application. Blind people can thus “listen to the content” of a letter, a poster or an exhibition in a museum.

There is a paradox in these guidance tools, of which Viknesh is aware. “I swapped my dependence on those around me to depend on my phone,” he notes. Not to mention that they require a certain numerical skill, which not all of the 207,000 blind or visually impaired French people necessarily have. Is this a barrier to choosing among the myriad of applications on the market? Not really, according to Manuel Pereira, head of accessibility at the Valentin-Haüy association, which helps blind and visually impaired people: “The conversational aspect of artificial intelligence is a game-changer, you just have to ask. All these voice commands make learning easier, regardless of age. »

Digital giants on the lookout

This 59-year-old trained lawyer, himself blind, operates in an environment “riddled,” as he says, with new technologies. A technophilia common to many disabled people who want to improve their daily lives. The digital giants have perfectly identified this demand. “The market is huge, a company like Microsoft cannot ignore the 15% of workers who say they suffer from a disability or chronic illness which hinders them in their daily life,” emphasizes Philippe Trotin. For the moment, notable innovations concern sensory disabilities (deafness, blindness, mutism); psychological illnesses and mental deficiencies being more specific to each individual.

In addition to work and daily life, AI is also revolutionizing accessibility to leisure and culture. A few months ago, Viknesh got a taste of it. From the stands of the Stade de France, he watched the football match between the Blues and Greece, a touchscreen tablet in his hands. Developed by the Toulouse start-up Touch2See, it allows the blind to experience a sporting event through touch and hearing. A cursor indicates the position of the ball in real time, vibrations imitate the intensity of the game and automatic audio description comments on the match live. “The tablet is based on two elements: an AI which analyzes the data that we collect from sports leagues and a 5G connection for connection speed,” explains Arthur Chazelle, the founder. Only 3% of sporting events are accessible to the blind. The company created in 2022 intends to change the situation, to the great satisfaction of Viknesh. “AI is a revolution! Who knows, maybe it will allow us to live with a capital T? »

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