Heads-up innovators: don't leave the visually impaired behind

calendar 23 Feb 2014

Between Google Glass and the Oculus Rift, there are some amazing pieces of technology being built around content beamed straight into your eyes from a very short distance. This is great, except if you have a problem that affects your depth of focus.

I've been blind since birth, and I have to clarify that this almost never means "completely sightless". Most blind people have some sight, and they don't all wear dark fucking glasses or carry canes. Having a smartphone and a tablet is great because for the most part I can do what I need to do to see: I can make text bigger, zoom in the entire screen or just bring the device closer to my face. But when you build technology that places content at a fixed distance from the retina, you destroy a blind person's ability to take control.

I've not yet been lucky enough to try Google Glass or the Rift, but I can be sure that the displayed in both systems will be unreadable to me, because I can't get closer to the screen. For those with pseudo sight problems (ie: ones that can be corrected at a local Specsavers) are screwed with the Rift, but at least with Glass, Google are looking at prescription lenses.

I have a related problem with the Kinect. It's impossible for me to get far enough away from the box and still see the instructions. I can just about use a Wii, but even then I have to be so close to the screen as to make controlling the cursor like looking through a viewfinder at 500x zoom (ie: very shaky).

None of this is a dig at the manufacturers or developers who have been innovating in these spaces, it's just worth remembering that we're as valuable a part of the market as anyone else; we're no less likely to play games or to want a heads-up display. In many cases we're more likely to want a HUD for things like navigation.

If you're a developer not involved in this line of work, have a little think about the work you do. Are you a web developer who fixes the zoom level on mobile web pages because you're afraid of breaking the design? If so, I forgive you, but please remove that meta tag now. If you're developing wearable tech: have you considered the display contrast, low-light performance or added the ability to increase text size?

I bloody love my gadgets. Between my Mac, my phone, my Chromecast and my TV I've got an amazing automated TV delivery service. My Nexus 7 keeps me entertained at the gym - and yes, on the loo too. My FitBit and scales help me track my weight loss and my Pebble... well, just tells the time at the moment. All of these can be improved in little ways, but because they're not fixed to my head, I'm not hamstrung and helpless.

If you're developing technology that sticks to the face, don't leave the visually impaired behind on your road to innovation.

Thanks! x