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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The blind leading the blind

James Teh, a recent graduate of Queensland University of Technology, and Michael Curran are blind computer engineers who have invented a way to help other blind people access computers. Their screen reading program won the New Inventors ‘Les is More’ award for inventions that ‘might make a real difference to people’s lives or the environment.’

Photo: Queensland University of Technology (QUT) graduate James Teh.

Among the challenges faced by blind people is the difficulty in using computers, a huge liability in this digital age. There are screen-reading programs, but many of them are expensive, costing up to $1000. This can put them out of range for blind college students like Teh. To help out blind people like themselves, he and Curran designed a free, open-source program called NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access). This program not only reads the words on the screen, it also indicates where the cursor is located by changing the pitch of the beep.

NVDA is available as a free download to either a computer or a USB stick, making it portable to any PC. Volunteers have translated it into 27 languages. The inventors plan to continue improving the product and making it even more widely available.

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