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Apps aren’t just for pretending to play guitar, keeping you busy on the subway, or giving your photos fancy effects. There’s an app that can help blind people navigate city streets and daily activities. An Android app named Georgie can help the visually impaired find the right bus stop, read menus and ingredient lists, and find their way around.
Every day activities can be difficult without vision. Consider something as small as pressing options on a touchscreen phone. There are no buttons to feel and no Braille on designated keys. With Georgie, users pass their fingers over an option and the app reads it aloud. To select an option, the user’s finger must stay on the option until the phone makes a beep to indicate that an option was selected. The app can make calls and send texts on top of all of the GPS-based functions.
Georgie is quite helpful on public transit. It can let users know when the next bus is scheduled to arrive and which stop is coming up next. Even with full vision, if you’ve ever been on a crowded city bus during rush hour and couldn’t see out the windows, you know the importance of this feature.
Navigation is a major part of Georgie. With the app, your phone can tell you which direction you are facing and how to get around. It won’t replace a seeing-eye dog, but it can increase a visually impaired person’s confidence when he or she is out and about. As users find hazards on normal routes, they can program Georgie to send them reminders when they approach the problematic area. For example, if there is a steep hill, you could record a warning like “steep hill” that your phone would play as you approached the area in the future. If a user gets lost, help is just a button away.
The app can also make your smartphone read menus and ingredient lists out loud. It uses optical character recognition (OCR) to scan and read written words.
While there are tech-savvy blind people, Georgie was made to be as user-friendly as possible. Because Georgie has so many functions, there is no need to switch in and out of apps. Screenreader, the app’s developer, sells Samsung phones with Android that come pre-loaded with the app, so there’s no confusion trying to download it. Specific settings prevent Georgie from being turned off accidentally. The app starts up when the phone turns on and won’t be shut off unless you specifically unlock it.
Screenreader is a nonprofit based in Peterborough, England. Its co-founder, Tom Wilson-Hinds, is blind and sees the need for many of the features. While Georgie comes with a hefty price tag of about $230, all profits go to Communication for Blind and Disabled People, a charity of which Screenreader is a part.
While you may think that Angry Birds changed your life, Georgie shows that apps really can change people’s lives for the better. If a smartphone can increase a visually-impaired or blind person’s confidence and independence, it is worth more than most of the apps on the market.