A new device ring-like device developed by researchers in the United States and Singapore called the ''FingerReader'' reads printed text out loud with a synthesized voice, giving the visually impaired the ability to quickly access and read information around them. Sharon Reich reports.
STORY: Meng Ee Wong is visually impaired and with the help of a new device called the "finger reader," hes' reading a book in a whole new way. (SOUNDBITE) (English) VISUALLY IMPAIRED PROFESSOR WONG MENG EE WHO IS USING THE FINGER READER, SAYING: "It felt strange. Certainly it felt strange, because it's not accustom for someone with visual impairment to read text in that nature." And that's exactly why it was developed. Researcher Suranga Nanayakkara from the Singapore University of Technology and Design says there is a gap in assistive technology for the visually impaired. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SURANGA NANAYAKKARA, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AT SINGAPORE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY AND DESIGN, SAYING: "There are so many smart phone apps out there that claim to be accessible and claims it to be more user friendly for people who can't see, but the reality is that if you observe a blind user trying to use a smart phone they have to go through tedious steps in getting something done." So Nanayakkara and researcher Roy Shilkrot from the MIT Media Lab developed the finger reader. The ring-like device is strapped onto the user's finger. A camera positioned on the top of the ring scans the text. And as their finger moves across the words, a computer program identifies what the user is pointing to and then converts that into audio that is read aloud by a synthesized voice. Since pointing in a straight line is not natural for the blind, the device has built in checks for the user. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ROY SHILKROT, PH.D. CANDIDATE AT MIT MEDIA LAB, SAYING: "While it's reading it will also give you different cues on how to stay in line properly. So if you are staying in line or go too far above or below the line ... when you can't see it and you need to trace it it's kind of hard. So all of these cues are delivered either with the vibration or with audio, a continuous audio tone helps you scan properly." The team are still carrying out tests with a number of subjects and expect the device to be fine tuned in about two years. And that's great news for Wong, who says the capability to read menus or other text could be life altering. (SOUNDBITE) (English) VISUALLY IMPAIRED PROFESSOR WONG MENG EE WHO IS USING THE FINGER READER, SAYING: "So much information is around us, so much information is handed to us spontaneously. And to be able to access that information I think would be a tremendous game changer for person's with visual impairments to have access to that information." So while it may feel like an oddity, this is something Wong could get used to.