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BBC 6 minute English-Digital help for blind people
  • 1400-04-21
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BBC 6 minute English-Digital help for blind people

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Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript

.Neil: Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil

.Georgina: And I’m Georgina

?Neil: What do Homer, Ray Charles and Jorge Borges all have in common, Georgina

Georgina: Hmm, so that’s the ancient Greek poet, Homer; American singer, Ray Charles; and Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges… I can’t see much in common there, Neil

.Neil: Well, the answer is that they were all blind

Georgina: Ah! But that obviously didn’t hold them back – I mean, they were some of the greatest artists ever

.Neil: Right, but I wonder how easy they would find it living and working in the modern world

.Georgina: Blind people can use a guide dog or a white cane to help them move around

Neil: Yes, but a white cane is hardly advanced technology! Recently, smartphone apps have been invented which dramatically improve the lives of blind people around the world

Georgina: In this programme on blindness in the digital age we’ll be looking at some of these inventions, known collectively as assistive technology – that’s any software or equipment that helps people work around their disabilities or challenges

Neil: But first it’s time for my quiz question, Georgina. In 1842 a technique of using fingers to feel printed raised dots was invented which allowed blind people to read. But who invented it? Was it

?,a) Margaret Walker
b) Louis Braille?, or
?c) Samuel Morse

Sam: Hmm, I’ve heard of Morse code but that wouldn’t help blind people read, so I think it’s, b) Louis Braille

Neil: OK, Georgina, we’ll find out the answer at the end of the programme. One remarkable feature of the latest assistive technology is its practicality. Smartphone apps like ‘BeMyEyes’ allow blind users to find lost keys, cross busy roads and even colour match their clothes

Georgina: Brian Mwenda is CEO of a Kenyan company developing this kind of technology. Here he explains to BBC World Service programme, Digital Planet, how his devices seek to enhance, not replace, the traditional white cane

Brian Mwenda

The device is very compatible with any kind of white cane. So, once you clip it on to any white cane it works perfectly to detect the obstacles in front of you, and it relies on echo-location. So, echo-location is the same technology used by bats and dolphins to detect prey and obstacles and all that. You send out a sound pulse and then once it bounces off an obstacle, you can tell how far the obstacle is

Neil: When attached to a white cane, the digital device – called ‘Sixth Sense’ – can detect obstacles – objects which block your way, making it difficult for you to move forward

Georgina: ‘Sixth Sense’ works using echo-location, a kind of ultrasound like that used by bats who send out sound waves which bounce off surrounding objects. The returning echoes show where these objects are located

Neil: Some of the assistive apps are so smart they can even tell what kind of object is coming up ahead – be it a friend, a shop door or a speeding car

.Georgina: I guess being able to move around confidently really boosts people’s independence

Neil: Absolutely. And it’s challenging stereotypes around blindness too. Blogger, Fern Lulham, who is blind herself, uses assistive apps every day. Here she is talking to BBC World Service’s, Digital Planet

Fern Lulham

I think the more that society sees blind people in the community, at work, in relationships it does help to tackle all of these stereotypes, it helps people to see blind and visually-impaired people in a whole new way and it just normalises disability – that’s what we need, we need to see people just getting on with their life and doing it and then people won’t see it as such a big deal anymore, it’ll just be the ordinary

Georgina: Fern distinguishes between people who are blind, or unable to see, and those who are visually impaired – experience a decreased ability to see

Neil: Assistive tech helps blind people lead normal, independent lives within their local communities. Fern hopes that this will help normalise disability – treat something as normal which has not been accepted as normal before

Georgina: …so being blind doesn’t have to be a big deal – an informal way to say something is not a serious problem

Neil: Just keep your eyes closed for a minute and try moving around the room. You’ll soon see how difficult it is… and how life changing this technology can be

Georgina: Being able to read books must also open up a world of imagination. So what was the answer to your quiz question, Neil

Neil: Ah yes. I asked Georgina who invented the system of reading where fingertips are used to feel patterns of printed raised dots. What did you say, Georgina

.Georgina: I thought it was, b) Louis Braille

Neil: Which was…of course the correct answer! Well done, Georgina – Louise Braille the inventor of a reading system which is known worldwide simply as braille

Georgina: I suppose braille is an early example of assistive technology – systems and equipment that assist people with disabilities to perform everyday functions. Let’s recap the rest of the vocabulary, Neil

.Neil: OK. An obstacle is an object that is in your way and blocks your movement

Georgina: Some assisted technology works using echo-location – a system of ultrasound detection used by bats

Neil: Being blind is different from being visually impaired – having a decreased ability to see, whether disabling or not

Georgina: And finally, the hope is that assistive phone apps can help normalise disability – change the perception of something into being accepted as normal

.Neil: ..so that disability is no longer a big deal – not a big problem

…Georgina: That’s all for this programme but join us again soon at 6 Minute English

Neil: …and remember you can find many more 6 Minute topics and useful vocabulary archived on bbclearningenglish.com

Georgina: Don’t forget we also have an app you can download for free from the app stores. And of course we are all over social media, so come on over and say hi

!Neil: Bye for now

!Georgina: Bye



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