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Device that converts iPhone screen into braille a 'lifeline' for deaf-blind people – ABC News

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February 09, 2019 09:00:38

Melbourne woman Heather Lawson is both deaf and blind; to participate in an interview she requires support from two interpreters.

She places her hands over those of the first interpreter and feels via touch as he signs my questions to her.

A second interpreter translates her Auslan responses back to me.

But despite the multilayered conversation, this remarkable and independent woman’s great sense of humour shines through.

Ms Lawson was born without hearing and grew up communicating via sign language.

By the time she reached her 20s, she gradually began losing her sight as well.

“It really did affect my life,” she said.

A communication lifeline

A small device has given Ms Lawson, and the wider deaf-blind community, the opportunity to connect with the world.

In recent years a small display which fits in her handbag has become vital as it converts the words on her phone screen into braille.

“Its just fantastic, that technology, and I love it. It has made my life a lot easier and I’ve been able to achieve things.”

The braille display connects to the phone via Bluetooth, allowing her to access emails, SMS, Facebook, apps and the internet.

It also makes banking and navigating public transport much easier.

“I live an independent life, and I have for a number of years, but the technology that’s available now has allowed me to remain independent,” Ms Lawson said.

Useful in an emergency

The machine also allows her to write notes in the phone which can be useful for communicating with taxi drivers.

She once used it to communicate with firefighters who had broken into her home to respond to a fire alarm.

“I didn’t realise the firemen had broken into my house to turn it off,” she said.

“We were able to communicate on my computer using the braille display.

“I get goosebumps just thinking about it. It was a great experience.”

The device has 14 braille cells which change with the touch of a button to reflect the next passage of text.

“It does take a little bit more time for me to read things using those buttons but it’s definitely worth it,” Ms Lawson said.

Critical for connectedness

Michelle Stevens is also deaf-blind; she was born without sight and lost her hearing in her 30s due to chronic ear infections.

While she also uses tactile Auslan to process questions, her bubbly voice responds.

The self-confessed “techo-junkie” said she loved experimenting with new adaptive technologies and often shared her experience with others at AbleLink, a centre where people with dual sensory loss can improve their digital literacy.

“Technology has been absolutely fantastic,” she said.

“The iPhone in particular has made a huge difference to how I access information.”

Ms Stevens said it was critical that organisations of every size ensured their online presence complied with web accessibility guidelines.

“There’s nothing more annoying than you go to access an app and because the code has not been correctly written or written to follow the guidelines … my screen reader cannot read this.

“It’s a bit like me saying to people, ‘turn on your computer, turn off the screen, and see how you go getting the information — and also turn off the sound’.

“That’s how it is for us when things are not accessible.”

Topics:

science-and-technology,

computers-and-technology,

information-and-communication,

mobile-phones,

disabilities,

eyes,

ear-nose-and-throat-disorders,

diseases-and-disorders,

people,

human-interest,

melbourne-3000



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