The latest Assistive Technology: Skype

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

If you are a keen solo yachtsman and you go blind how do you carry on with your passion? The answer is to hook up a video link using Skype.

Ed Gallagher has slowly lost his sight over the last ten years. He was a keen sailor in the San Francisco Bay area and wanted to continue his hobby. He joined the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors (BAADS) but really wanted to continue solo sailing. He put together a solution using a head-mounted video camera and a video Skype link to a friend on terra firma. The friend can now see the boat and where it is going and direct Ed so that he can sail solo in the Bay.

Besides sailing, Ed has now successfully gone cross-country skiing and even ridden a bike. Exciting as these pursuits are the system can be used for more mundane actives such as shopping or just help at home (where did I leave my keys or why is the remote control not working). One obvious question is who is willing to be at the other end of the link? Ed has found that lots of people are willing to help but it is particularly attractive to people with limited mobility, such as people in wheelchairs and the elderly who get enormous pleasure from getting ‘out and about’ with Ed.

Ed has set up a not-for-profit organisation, Genoa Connections, named after his guide dog, that has turned his prototype into a beta version and is seeking a strategic alliance to further develop the concept.

I think this a really cool idea and it is a wonderful example of how standard technology can be used as an assistive technology with minimal development costs.

The IT industry and the disability groups need to find more ways to improve accessibility using standard technology.