Mobile devices are helping to make information more accessible for the blind

He plays on an Xbox, navigates his way using a GPS and knows when to turn the lights off but life wasn’t always this easy for David Woodbridge. Woodbridge, who lost his sight when he was 8 years old, says things were very different 20 years ago.

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“I had to do a lot more work and running around to get the same level of access I do today,” he tells Mashable.

“I was very reliant on my laptop and [had to have] multiple standalone devices: a talking calculator, watch, GPS, diary.”

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The task of reading a printed document, for instance, had to be scanned in to the computer and analysed with OCR (optical character recognition) software a tedious process. These devices were also prohibitively expensive. “I had a talking GPS system before but it was around $1000, and you needed to bring it into the supplier to get it updated regularly,” Woodbridge explains. All of those devices are replaced by an iPhone.

Today, all of that is replaced by his iPhone. An app on his phone tells him if the lights are on, and a scanner can identify paper money on the go. Voice dictation on modern mobile devices has also come a long way since the ’90s, he added. “I had Dragon Dictate in 1991, it captured maybe 80 percent of what you said, and you had to keep reading it back to yourself with Braille to check.”

Woodbridge, who works with non-profit Vision Australia as a technical trainer, is also one of Apple’s accessibility ambassadors. So naturally, he’s a big fan of its products, and carries an iPad, Apple Watch, in addition to relying on his Apple TV at home. But he struggles with autocorrect like the rest of us. “I turn autocorrect off.” “I turn autocorrect off,” he says. “It irritates me because it’s always trying to suggest what to type for me.”

He also wishes that app makers would consider the needs of people with disabilities a little more in their user interface designs. “[I’ve been] in the technology field for 27 years, but any time I try to use new UI, it’a challenge,” Woodbridge says. “I’ve got the mentality that something might not work the first time, [so] i don’t get irritated until the eighth or ninth time.” You can catch more of Woodbridge on Twitter and via his regular technology podcasts, where he reviews software and gadgets from an accessibility perspective.

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