Florent Fabian, author
High-Tech Gadgets for Visually Impaired. How Far Are We Down This Road?
I have an Arab friend. His name is Khalid. Khalid is a visually impaired person and an excellent artist. He does wonderful things with clay. Khalid lives and works in Algiers, the capital of Algeria. We have known each for several years and always spoke French, second official language after Arabic in Algeria. Khalid knows a bit of English, but not enough to keep a conversation. Since he decided to visit his uncle in Chicago, he needed some sort of translator to help him get around. He couldn’t afford a real one, so he turned to me asking for help in finding a gadget that would help him communicate in the States.
And now I was posed with a puzzle: how do you find an electronic device for someone who can’t, unfortunately, see or know how to operate it without being previously thoroughly instructed? Not just a device for translation, anything: a microwave, a cell phone, an MP3 player etc.? Of course, there is some specialized electronics available somewhere, but it is still not a commodity, applied into items of everyday use. One cannot but think about the inconvenience of such state of things. Although the world is getting there, it does so still slowly.
This was the first time I had to look for this kind of a product. After a quick search on the internet I have stumbled into a company called Ectaco. They make electronic translators of all kinds, also English-Arabic ones. Of course I was skeptic about certain elements in the description they had on the website, like “speech recognition” or “voice navigation”, but with no alternative I went for the gadget and ordered it for my dear friend Khalid.
I don’t mean to solicit in this article, but I have to share in some way the joy and excitement with which Khalid was telling me about his new and, as it had proven to be, very useful toy. Apparently, you can name the application you want to work with – for example, “Translator” or “Phrasebook”, or “Dictionary”, or “Reader” etc. - and it opens up. Khalid was thrilled to actually know what he was typing in the device because each button was vocalized. In a short time he had learned to type on the small keyboard fast enough to make it efficient for conversations. And the speech recognition actually worked – for the preprogrammed phases and sentences, but it is still quite exact and truly impressive. When I spoke with Khalid over the phone, I asked him about the language that was coming out of the device. Obviously, a gadget with such characteristics must also tell you the translation and not just show it on the screen. And I was expecting the typical digitalized pronunciation, but then Khalid played for me a translation from his device and I was surprised to hear crystal human voice.
Khalid is still planning to visit his uncle. And now, much better off linguistically, he fears the miscommunication less. Khalid told me he would like everything in his home to work as his translator. Maybe some day it will. As for now, we have a few thoughtful companies like Ectaco who actually think not only about the majority of its customers, but of their minority as well. What a truly great way to approach business!
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