By Suresh Nair
Melissa Yeo (left) became blind about a decade ago at age 35. In her own words, she felt “totally helpless”. But the regional quality manager has since discovered that technology can help her overcome her limitations and enhance her quality of life.
Assistive technologies such as Apple's VoiceOver, a built-in screen reader in iPads and iPhones allow visually impaired users like Melissa to hear a description of everything that is happening on their screens – from the apps their fingers are on to the battery level of their devices. Users can even adjust the speaking rate and pitch to suit them.
“Assistive technologies have significantly empowered me in my job and now I know how to be independent even after losing my eye-sight,” said the 44-year old.
Melissa was a participant at the Infocomm and Assistive Technologies (IT/AT) Accessibility workshop held at the Enabling Village on 6 April. This workshop is the first instalment of a series of workshops aimed at raising awareness of the accessibility features of mainstream devices and applications available to persons with disabilities (PWDs), caregivers and disability sector professionals.
The workshop is part of the broader Enable IT Programme under the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to enable and empower PWDs to lead independent lives through the adoption of IT/AT. To achieve this goal, IMDA will collaborate with the government agencies, SG Enable, Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and private organisations to increase adoption, build capabilities and raise awareness of IT/AT amongst PWDs.
David Woodbridge, a Senior Adaptive Technology Consultant at Vision Australia, who lost his sight when he was eight years old, conducted a keynote lecture at the workshop. He has spent many years evaluating technology for use by people who are blind or visually impaired, covering both low and high-tech equipment.
“Technology has emphatically improved millions of lives. I’ve been using the Apple platform since 2008, evaluating it for low vision and blind users covering desktop, mobile and the Apple TV," he shared.
Sim Kah Yong, 53, a partially blind person working with Dialogue in the Dark was inspired by David's passion for helping PWDs with technology.
“David is a perfectionist for the disabled. I want to pass on the information to beneficiaries and equip them with the skill sets and tools to lead meaningful lives in this digital age,” said Kah Yong.
Meanwhile, disability professionals such as Sim Mariam Mohd, an Assistive Technology Specialist at SPD (Serving People with Disabilities), are excited to learn the new technologies that will benefit PWDs.
“At SPD we’ve been using conventional methods to improve life skills in clients with disabilities. By learning from David, we hope to introduce the various accessibility and mobility technologies as well as applications that can be adapted and used at home, work and for leisure,” she enthused.
Zahier Samad (right) from Guidedogs Association of Singapore believed that one key goal of assistive technology adoption is to help PWDs acquire the training they need to be employed.
He said, “The longer-term target must be to unlock the potential of our clients through technology, providing them with vocational training and employment with the aim of promoting inclusion and participation in the workplace."