This is going to be a personal perspective and will reflect my own thoughts and opinions. I will, as always, be really interested to here other people’s thoughts and to learn how you think in terms of pictures and visual concepts.
It has been quite a few years since I’ve been able to see. I have fairly good visual memory, but what I saw was 30 plus years ago and maybe my concept of colours for instance has been affected by time.
To the vast majority of sighted people, not being able to see would be a disaster and therefore opinions towards visual impairment are shaped with this firmly in mind. I used to love colours and if there is anything that I miss from being able to see then that’s it. Apart from that, the whole value of sight has diminished for me over time. For instance, knowing what someone looks like, what is being shown on TV or what’s in a picture has more value through sound (description) than having the immediacy of being able to see something. Naturally and understandably, put this concept to someone who can see; not having the ability to see a person, a shape or a picture would be unthinkable.
I know that I could never have my sight back and it has taken some adjustment through time to fully adjust to this. If I imagine hard enough, I could come up with a concept of how someone looks, but it’s not of primary importance and it’s something that doesn’t necessarily worry me unduly. Yes, I feel that I do need an awareness of visual concept, but my life is not centred on having that. Thankfully, we’re all different and due to various life experiences, will have a variety of perspectives on this.
Technology, however, through the development of artificial intelligence, has found a way of bringing pictures to life through basic and generalised audible descriptions. Crudely, this has been described in some quarters as giving sight to the blind; an interesting reflecting point that could stimulate all kinds of debate. For me, the development of this technology has one real exciting prospect in that I will be able to take pictures with some general certainty of what I’m doing. For instance, I have an iPhone and for some time now, when using the camera AP, the phone (through the voiceover function) has been able to tell me if there is a face in view. This week, Microsoft have released the ‘seeing AI’ ap in the UK which takes this a little further and gives more description to pictures such as where the person is and what their expression is showing (although this can have interesting results). There is a huge potential to take this further and this is using technology brilliantly in enabling us to access taking pictures and gaining some description back. This AP is free and is available from the AP store now.
It’s certainly fair to give recognition to other products in this field such as the orcam scanner that have made so much difference to so many people. Whereas the Microsoft AP is free, the orcam scanner does cost £2,000 plus, but many would argue that the usability of the latter does far exceed the learning curve of the former. However, the obvious stumbling point for orcam is its cost and in a world where integrated product accessibility is becoming more and more important, the cost and exclusivity of these specialised products may be challenged on grounds of usability in the future too.
The concept of sight when you don’t have vision is one that can be carried on and on and there is lots of ground for discussion and debate. This is my perspective; I would love to hear yours.