Saturday, February 09, 2008

Cellphone and reading team up to meet the needs of the visually impaired

K-NFB Reading Technology, an affiliation between the National Federation of the Blind and Kurzweil Technologies, has a product lined up to aid the visually impaired and the learning disabled. The company has paired with Nokia (News - Alert) N82 to unveil a small and sleek gadget that converts text to speech.

The fully loaded smart phone reads text and converts it into clear speech to aid blind users. It can be used to scan bills and interpret the value of the bill and also to scan other documents like restaurant menus etc. For those who can see but who need assistance in reading, the phone displays the converted text and also has features to enlarge and highlight text. This convenience would appeal to kids with learning difficulties specially dyslexics, and it would help them improve their reading skills.

The Nokia N82 phone is easy to use and the conversion from text to speech can be done with a click of a button. One of the first products offering the text-to-speech technology was developed by Ray Kurzweil in the 1970s. While some of the products available in the market today offer similar features as Nokia N82, not all of them are compact. While there are numerous gadgets to aid the visually impaired, this phone combines lot of features into a single device that can be easily carried around in pockets. Ray Kurzweil, CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, who has developed the current Mobile Reader Product line, is a pioneer in assistive technologies.

"What's new here is both blind people and kids can do this with a device that fits in their shirt pocket," Kurzweil said. According to Kurzweil, the current product is just the beginning of a series of innovative products to assist the blind. In the future, products that can recognize people can also be expected. There are about 10 million visually impaired people in the United States and the number is expected to double in the next 30 years.

"We've had reading devices before," Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind said, noting similar software is already available in a larger handheld reader housed in a personal digital assistant."It is the next step, but this is a huge leap," Gashel, who is blind, said in a telephone interview. "I'm talking to you on the device I also use to read things. I can put it in my pocket and at the touch of a button, in 20 seconds, be reading something I need to read in print."The speech recognition software for the product is provided by Nuance (News - Alert).

K-NFB Reading Technology would market the product. While the software is expected to cost around $1,595, the cell phone would be priced at around $500.

"As you can harness the power of remote environments and do that so quickly with the Web technologies, it gives a lot more capability, flexibility and options to the way you solve these type of problems," Strammiello, the director of product management at Nuance said.


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