It didn’t shock me that MojoVision (a Silicon Valley startup making augmented reality contact lenses) brought a big percentage of their team and had a table right in the middle of Sight Tech’s event honoring Mike Shebanek for his work on Apple’s VoiceOver functionality that enables blind people and those who have vision impairments use iPhones. All around the audience were blind people.
MojoVision’s CEO, Drew Perkins, had cataracts and eye surgery, and has long sought to build a bionic eye. So, it makes sense MojoVision would align themselves with the blind community. But all around were others working on augmented reality products. Meta, Apple, and others.
While Shebanek’s speech will be interesting to any Apple fan (he gives lots of stories about building an accessibility team at Apple, including lots of Steve Jobs stories) I don’t want you to miss what happens about 57 minutes into my video: several of the blind people around the room were called on to tell what Apple’s VoiceOver meant to them.
The stories are heartwarming but the job isn’t done. Why do I say that? My 14-year-old son is a special needs kid and has speech that is hard to understand by many and is autistic. None of the AI voice systems understand him and you should hear his frustration at not being able to communicate with computers like his brother can by talking to Alexa or Siri. He’s had Apple devices since he was two years old.
He can’t use systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or even Google’s Assistant with his voice. They just don’t understand him.
As we move into augmented reality devices, which could greatly help him live his, and those who are like him, life, these technology walls grow more daunting. Why? Five years from now we will be talking to AIs far more frequently than today.
At his public school his special needs classmates have similar problems. Some can’t hold their hands still enough to type on a keyboard. Many have a tough time with speech.
Will my son and his fellow students be included in the next paradigm shift? The paradigm shift of moving to 3D computing and new user interfaces for using your real voice and real hands in. For some users, like my son, this will be a frustrating paradigm shift.
It was an honor hearing Mike Shebanek’s stories. He’s a real pioneer who has had a deep mark on many companies (he now is working at Meta). He gives me hope that my son, and his fellow students, will be included in the computing platform of the future.
Thanks to the Vista Center for inviting me.
The Vista Center empowers individuals who are blind or visually impaired to embrace life to the fullest through evaluation, counseling, education, and training. Learn more: https://vistacenter.org
It has a conference coming in December, 2022, for developers who are shaping new technologies to create a more accessible world for people who are blind. Details on that here: https://sighttechglobal.com