Saturday, February 28

Google Engineer Adapts Cell Phone for Blind

Greetings. Here's another story that I received from the Gui-Talk list that I'm just getting around to posting. Seems like lately, most of my email reading and sorting has been happening on the weekends. Ah well. Enjoy, and as always, please excuse any formatting errors.


Google Engineer Adapts Cell Phone for Blind
February 19, 2009 02:10:00 PM

How functional would your cell phone be if you couldn't see its numbers?

For many blind users, including Google engineer T.V. Raman, the small
keyboards of a cell phone can be daunting.

So Raman is developing software to adapt T Mobile's G1 touchscreen phone
- which uses Google's Android software - to make it friendlier for blind
people and others with limited vision, such as the elderly.

"The small keyboard of a cell phone is not easy to use, particularly if
need one hand free,"
Raman told India-West in a telephone interview from Google headquarters
Mountain View, Calif. The blind generally need one hand free to hold a

Cell phone screen readers - software that reads aloud the content of the
screen - are available, but often cost as much as the cell phone itself,
said Raman, whose adaptation to the G1 allows the phone to be used with
single hand.

Blind G1 users begin by touching anywhere on the screen. Raman's dialer
interprets that first touch as 5, the center of a regular dial phone
The user can then slide a finger up, down or sideways to finish dialing
number. Mistakes can be corrected simply by shaking the phone.

"You can actually use it with one hand," said the affable Raman, 43, who
lives in the Blossom Hill area of the Silicon Valley, with his constant
companion Hubbell, a yellow Labrador.

The G1 has been on the market since October 2008, and Raman is releasing
software free and as open source over a Google Web site:


Raman and his colleagues at Google are also tweaking the G1's GPS system
meet the needs of the blind.

Raman lost his sight to glaucoma, at the age of 14. The Pune native said
biggest challenge at the time was "convincing people that I could do
what I
wanted to do."

India in the late 70s and early 80s was largely devoid of political
correctness, said Raman, adding, "If people thought you couldn't do
something because you were blind, they'd tell you."

In 1989, after finishing his masters in computer science at the Indian
Institute of Technology, Bombay, Raman and his brother arrived at
University in Ithaca, New York.

The relaxed, quiet Cornell campus proved to be less of a challenge to
negotiate than the streets of Pune and Mumbai, said Raman, who jokingly
envisioned the scenario of taking a guide dog onto a crowded Mumbai bus.

Raman - who freely admits he's not very good with a cane - got his first
guide dog in 1990, Aster, who opened up the small Cornell campus for
Aster, a black Lab, guided Raman for nine years until she died of cancer
December 1999.

Hubell, Raman's effusive yellow Lab, has been with him since Aster died,
has her own Web site with lots of photos. The two frequently hike
in the San Francisco Bay Area's huge expanse of wilderness areas.

The advent of technology has made the world more tangibly accessible for
disabled, Raman told India-West, adding that for him, the biggest
is being able to read.

"There was a time when what I read was limited to what was available,"
said Raman, adding, "Now, I can read whatever I choose to read." Raman
a screen reader to navigate the Web.

Online banking and shopping are particularly useful for people with
mobility, said Raman, adding that while technology for the disabled has
quite kept pace, it has equalized things a lot more.

After earning his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Cornell, Raman
for Digital Equipment Corporation in Cambridge, Mass. He moved to the
Silicon Valley in 1995, and began working at Adobe, on its signature
file format.

Raman next moved on to IBM Research in 1999, then to Google in 2005,
he said, he thrives in an environment that is "bottom-up, driven by
who are motivated by their ideas."


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