Next time you’re out and about, take a moment to notice how many people around you are wearing technology-enabled accessories. While not yet ubiquitous, wearable technology is making its way into our lives as an everyday part of our wardrobes−and for people with vision loss, such emerging technologies are providing unprecedented access to information about the world around them. Paul Schroeder, Director of Public Policy & Strategic Alliances at Aira, joined PEAT last month to discuss how emerging technologies are shaping the landscape of employment for people with vision loss and other disabilities.

Gaining Access

“I often say to people that, at least in my lifespan, this appears to be the best time to be blind or visually impaired because there are so many opportunities to have access to the world and to have information technology at our fingertips and in ways that we can actually make use of it.” – Paul Schroeder, Aira

Today, people who are blind or visually impaired are using innovative technologies, such as electronic eyeglasses with a video camera function, to perform essential tasks in both the workplace and everyday life. Some of the most promising features include improved support for navigation, access to signs and other visual elements, facial identification, and hands-free capabilities. Microsoft’s “Seeing AI” app, for example, harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) to allow people to access text (including handwriting), read documents, detect colors and light, and describe objects and scenery.

Another app, “Be My Eyes,” connects users with a volunteer via live video streaming. These volunteers provide visual assistance for tasks of all kinds, like reading signs, assisting with shopping, and providing directions (though users should take care to consider privacy concerns with certain tasks, given that the service is volunteer-run).  Paul’s company, Aira, functions similarly as a live-streaming assistance service, available via the app or a wearable device. Unlike Be My Eyes, this paid subscription service provides trained, screened professionals who provide reliable, around the clock service.

Expanding Employment Opportunities

These technology innovations offer great potential for supporting employment opportunities for people with disabilities. But barriers still remain, especially those tied to the accessibility of visual elements and information. Visual cues used in technology and for information access remain ingrained in the employment process, for example, especially when it comes to eRecruiting. While a screen reader can review a resume for content, it can’t give users an accurate sense of design choices like font type, size, color, and formatting. Other opportunities for technology to play a transformative role include assistance with navigating online job applications, adding a signature or photo to a document in the correct place, and reading paper and handwritten documents.

As these new technologies continue to emerge, they will open up new possibilities for people with disabilities to access the world around them, and for employers to build a productive and inclusive workforce.  And naturally, the more that all technologies are designed with diverse users in mind, the more we all benefit.

You can learn more about Aira and other technology options for people who are blind or visually impaired by checking out the archived PEAT Talk. And to find resources for ensuring that your business’s eRecruiting technologies are accessible, be sure to check out TalentWorks.