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Some Technology Leaves The Blind Behind
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Some Technology Leaves The Blind Behind


And we want to tip you off now to something new on our Web site. It's a preview of the kinds of consumer electronics becoming available to the deaf and the blind. Think about it: What do all those new touch-screen devices do for a person who is visually impaired? The musician Stevie Wonder made a special plea earlier this month at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Musician): Hundreds of thousands of people on this planet are blind or with low vision. So, to me, that's enough to say, let's do something about it.

MONTAGNE: Stevie Wonder was speaking to producer Joshua Brockman, who was also at that technology conference. We invited Josh into the studio to talk about some of the devices he saw there.

JOSHUA BROCKMAN: One of the most interesting products is a GPS that's been specifically designed to help blind people navigate in the world. And one of the fun things about that is, it provides this ongoing narration, so everything on the device will talk to you. And it gives such feedback - like, if you're walking on the street, it will tell you how far you are from, say, a store or a restaurant. This information can be delivered by speech or by Braille.

One of the other really fascinating things is called knfb Mobile Reader. And what this is, is - this is a device that allows you to take a piece of paper and lay it flat on a table or anywhere, and take a photograph of it with a cell phone. And the phone, within five seconds, will read that back to you, either in whole or in part. And that's really helpful for blind people. Let's say, if they go into a restaurant and want to see what's on the menu, they can actually take this digital photograph, and it will tell them exactly what's on that paper.

MONTAGNE: Now, full disclosure, NPR recently won an award, as a matter of fact, from Stevie Wonder for helping develop accessible radios. And one of those radios has Braille for the blind; another has captions for the deaf. What is out there now that's new for the deaf?

BROCKMAN: One product that's out there is something called a VPAD+, and that's a video-conferencing solution that allows two deaf people to speak with one another. And this is also a portable device that's made by a company called Viable.

MONTAGNE: And you've just given us a few examples, but are these devices and others causing any kind of buzz in the communities that would use them?

BROCKMAN: There is a lot of interest in these technologies, particularly because they're making a lot of the world much more accessible in very concrete ways. One of the factors, though, is the price point. There are subsidies that are sometimes available, but just to name one example, the knfb Mobile Reader, that costs more than $1,000. And when you add the cell phone to that, it's about $1,400. So, it's - these are technologies that the blind and deaf can really benefit from, but the price point does present a challenge.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Joshua Brockman. You'll find a demonstration of a videophone for the deaf, and learn more about accessible gadgets, at

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