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Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020

Independent Living for the Blind

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Louisiana Association for the Blind partners with OrCam

A company formerly known for collision avoidance technology in automobiles has developed a new device designed to assist the blind and visually impaired to navigate more easily through our world.

Israeli company OrCam Technologies, specializing in personal, artificial intelligence-driven tech, and the Louisiana Association for the Blind (L.A.B.) have announced a cooperative agreement to enable the blind and visually impaired community to be more indep e n -dent through assistive technology (AT).

The means is called OrCam MyEye, which is an advanced optical sensor that captures images of its surroundings and communicates the information to the user audibly. It is designed to permit a wearer to “see” any type of text, faces or other objects by translating them into audio messages that the wearer can hear through a tiny speaker or Bluetooth device.

Audra Muslow Hicks, vice president of community services, told 318 Forum that it is the only wearable AT activated by an intuitive pointing gesture. She said the technology will allow “people who are blind or have low vision to more independently study, work and perform daily activities.” She said MyEye does not require the use of a smartphone or Wi-Fi and ensures data privacy.

The device is a lightweight camera about an adult finger’s size that attaches to almost any pair of glasses. It “reads” printed and digital text from any surface. It is operated with simple hand gestures and has over 20 voiceactivated commands. Designed for users of any age, it enables them to read newspapers, books, menus, signs, product labels and screens. The company offers free online training. You can see the device in action by going to www.orcam.com and YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The utility of the EyeCam will help those with visual limitations be more competitive in the workplace, according to Muslow-Hicks. “Recent innovations in AT are narrowing the employment gap between people with and without disabilities,” she said. “The community with who we work at L.A.B. is eager to increase job placement and career advancement opportunities in knowledge-based positions.”

She added that the MyEye device has already enabled blind and visually impaired employees at L.A.B. to expand their job responsibilities, granted them increased independence, and boosted their self-confidence. She noted that L.A.B. “serves as an excellent case study on how AI-driven AT can significantly enhance workplace performance of those with visual impairments.”

She said in today’s workplace employees are expected to possess more than just operational knowledge of technology and apply them in accurate and effective ways in a fast-paced environment.

“We are proud to cooperate with L.A.B., an organization that has tirelessly supported people with visual impairments through training, services and employment since 1927,” said Tzahi Israel, OrCam Technologies VP of global sales, in a statement. “Joining forces with L.A.B. will facilitate our efforts to enhance independence and accessibility for those who are blind or visually impaired throughout the areas where L.A.B. is active.” He added the company is eager to assist L.A.B. in reducing the 70 percent unemployment rate among the visually impaired.

OrCam Technologies, which specializes in personal, wearable AI technologies, was founded in 2010 by Israeli innovators Prof. Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram. They are also the cofounders of MobileEye, which is now an Intel company. MobileEye uses artificial vision technology that supports safer driving through collision avoidance and autonomous driving capability. The company’s OrCam MyEye was named to the TIME magazine Best Inventions of 2019 list.

“We hope to identify and work with additional clients and vendors to bring this important piece of technology to those who can truly benefit from it,” said Muslow-Hicks. She noted that such case numbers are high in the L.A.B. service area. Muslow-Hicks noted that recent statistics suggest that only 44 percent of people in the U.S. who are blind or visually impaired are employed, compared to 79 percent of those without visual disabilities.

“With many older and medically compromised members of our community, OrCam’s technology affords opportunities for remote work,” she said. “We have been able to shift our work model to minimize contact between people, while still enabling them to remain productive in a work from home environment.”

For more information, go to the L.A.B. website at https://www.lablind.com.

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