Seeing AI: Robin’s Story

"Technology plays a crucial role in helping me be as independent as possible - quite simply it's a game changer."

Today is the 9th Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day dedicated to celebrating existing accessibility achievements whilst fostering and furthering the conversation on the importance of inclusive design and the power technology has to change a person’s life.

In this guest blog post, Robin Spinks, Senior Innovation and Technology Relationships Manager for The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), shares his story on smart technology and family life.

Family life and smart technology

I’ve lived with low vision all of my life having been born with albinism, a rare genetic condition which results in a lack of the pigment melanin in my skin, hair and eyes.

I’m registered severely visually impaired (blind) but I’ve always maintained a positive, can do attitude to most things that I encounter in life. Technologies: hardware, software and services play a crucial role in helping me to be as independent as possible at home, in work and throughout family life.

Recently I visited Edinburgh Zoo with my five-year-old son Tadhg. Like Tadhg, I was eager to enjoy the visit but I was also mindful of just how visual an experience a visit to the zoo can be.

Daddy, what’s that animal called asked Tadhg. Now to me, it looked just like a spikey black blob of some sort. There was text at the side of the enclosure but it was too small for daddy to read. And Tadhg although fully sighted hasn’t yet learned to read himself.

Microsoft Seeing AI

At this point, enter Microsoft’s Seeing AI on Daddy’s smartphone. Among its many talents, this wonderfully thoughtful app can easily scan and read-aloud text.

An instant scan of the text told us that the black spikey blob was in actual fact a Visayan Warty Pig, an endangered species native to the Visayan islands of the Philippines. A really exciting discovery for both of us and one which led to a whole conversation about the meaning of endangered species. And yeah he’s only five years of age!

We continued our zoo visit with Seeing AI opening up and bringing to life so many elements of our day.

Acting as the perfect bridge between my son and me, harmonising my lack of eyesight and his as yet inability to read, Seeing AI enabled a brilliant day out. It facilitated learning about so many animals, their habitat, feeding regime and their sustainability.

Feeling independent is a wonderful thing. Knowing that technology can enable shared experiences and lower the barriers posed by low vision is even more powerful. It motivates you to go further, aim higher and pursue your passions.

A game changer

I’ve avidly used smartphone apps in almost every area of my life for the past eight years. For me, the accessible smartphone loaded with apps is quite simply the remote control to my life, making me more independent and more included.

I can think of many helpful apps that I wouldn’t want to be without but I can’t think of one other app that’s had a bigger positive impact. Quite simply it’s a game changer.

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