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COMMENTARY
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 66  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 223-225  

Smartphone: A smart assistive device for people visual disabilities among COVID-19 pandemic


Additional Professor, Community Ophthalmology, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission06-Jul-2021
Date of Decision19-Nov-2021
Date of Acceptance11-Dec-2021
Date of Web Publication12-Jul-2022

Correspondence Address:
Suraj Singh Senjam
Additional Professor, Community Ophthalmology, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijph.ijph_1492_21

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   Abstract 


Smartphones are becoming one of the most indispensable gadgets for everyone in today's digital world, with the continued incorporation of computer technology. For the past few years, the interaction between human and smartphone content has been improved significantly with innovative technologies using gestures, haptic, and sound instead of visual-based interaction. Such technologies are in the form of built-in features and accessible apps. Such an advanced way of interface design helps to access not only the content in phones but also assist to perform daily living activities. Evidence shows that such smartphones technology help in executing a wide range of functioning among people with visual impairment. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic causes a challenge to everyone, including one living with a vision loss, in maintaining the daily supplies and civic life. Unfortunately, the majority of such people cannot access smartphones, so they depend on a simple basic phone. It is the time to promote the benefits of such evolving smartphones technology in all the corners of the health-care sectors, practitioners, special educators, and even family members. Meanwhile, the relevant ministerial divisions of the Government of India need to develop a clear policy to augment access to smartphones, particularly among people with visual disabilities.

Keywords: Accessibility, accessible applications, India, smartphones, visual disabilities


How to cite this article:
Senjam SS. Smartphone: A smart assistive device for people visual disabilities among COVID-19 pandemic. Indian J Public Health 2022;66:223-5

How to cite this URL:
Senjam SS. Smartphone: A smart assistive device for people visual disabilities among COVID-19 pandemic. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 16];66:223-5. Available from: https://www.ijph.in/text.asp?2022/66/2/223/350644




   Introduction Top


Nowadays, smartphones have become one of the most important assets in our everyday lives. Smartphones are equipped with a camera, an audio and video recording system, a global positioning system, web search tools, sending and receiving messages, and e-mail, so on, at the tips of the fingers. In the recent past, smartphone use has been increased significantly for a wide range of daily living activities worldwide along with consistently raising the penetration rate in the community, including India. For example, Statista reports that more than 760 million people use smartphones in India which is projected to increase up to 973 million by 2025.[1] Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic with its preventive measures along with significant movement restriction will lead to an upsurge in the use of smartphones for multiple activities such as assisting daily supplies, maintaining civic life, telehealth consultation and communication, seeking information, and social interaction.[2]


   Smartphone Technology and Accessible Applications Top


Since a few years ago, there has been a substantial advance in smartphone technology with the integration of computer technology, leading to the development of alternative means in human–smartphone interaction. Such integrated technology helps to replace the visual smartphone interaction into eyes-free methods of interaction that employs alternative body senses such as gesture, haptic, and sound.[3] Due to such a sophisticated digital revolution in mobile technology, the accessibility of smartphones and their content improves significantly to people with visual impairment and blindness. Therefore, such an innovative user interface designed that used other than visual functions provide tremendous opportunities to execute daily activities and support independent living among visually challenged individuals.

There are many accessible built-in features, for example, TalkBack and VoiceOver – a screen reader in Android- and iOS-based smartphone, respectively, and third-party accessible apps for visual impairment, such as “Kibo” accessible app which can read any electronic text or images (English, Hindi, e-book, and portable document format); “Supersense” for print materials or identification of surrounding objects with voice output to individuals with visual impairment and blindness.[4],[5] Many of these accessible apps can be downloaded free online, especially in low- and middle-income countries, and installed either on Android- or iOS-based mobile phones for customized use. These accessible software technologies can help the visual impairment users in a smart way in performing daily activities, independent functioning, movement, social inclusion and participation, educational activities, accessing digital information, and for sighted help through audio–video callings as in “Be My Eyes” apps.[6],[7]

However, in low- and middle-income countries, including India, smartphones are often considered a device meant for sighted people which is misinformation. Many of us working in health-care sectors, health-care practitioners, physicians, and even eye care professionals, excluding vision rehabilitation professionals, perceive that smartphone is less likely to be considered an assistive device for people with visual impairment and blindness. Unfortunately, in today's Indian Digital Society, the majority of individuals with visual impairment still depend on a simple basic phone which has a limited function compared to a smartphone.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, further imposing the nationwide lockdown, most of us perform routine daily activities such as shopping, financial management, communication, reading current affairs and news, and any sort of information with the help of smartphones.[8] All these tasks can be performed with the help of accessible apps of a smartphone. Furthermore, smartphones are present everywhere and anyone irrespective of the type of disabilities can buy at a relatively cheaper price compared to the earlier time.[9] The users can carry it at any place with a lanyard or a holster, making it the most convenient assistive product for visual impairment. Smartphones are also user-friendly and universally designed, so it is less likely to make public attention or negative impression-like traditional assistive devices. Therefore, smartphones cause less discomfort to the visual impairment users, whereas the traditional devices such as optical and electronic magnifiers are left abandoned by a great majority of people with visual disabilities due to negative reactions upon used (75% of them).[10]


   Access to Smartphones among People with Visual Loss Top


As of today, the prevalence of the use of smartphones accessible apps globally is not known; however, the World Health Organization estimates that one in ten individuals who require assistive devices can access it. This reflects that the use of smartphone assistive technology among people with visual impairment and blindness is very poor across the world. The factors such as initial transition experiences on the new interface (touchscreen), community support, user-friendliness of the device, and apps influence the adoption of smartphones as illustrated in a study conducted by Pal et al.[11] Besides, several reasons may account for poor access, such as a lack of awareness of accessible apps and features that can lead to ignorance in procuring it among users, less recommendation by the practitioners and eye care professionals, and paucity of vision rehabilitation services delivery points. Another potential reason can be financially constrained among the end-users. Many end-users are still not able to afford it despite the cost being reduced significantly in the last few years. The World Health Organization revealed that one of the key reasons for poor access to assistive devices is an economic constraint in low- middle-income countries.[12]


   Addressing the Accessibility Challenges Top


In India, it is fact that young individuals who go to schools or colleges own a smartphone provided free under the Assistance to Disabled Persons (ADIP) scheme, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoS and E), Government of India, whereas people with middle age or more are given less priority so they cannot avail much of the benefits under the ADIP scheme. The National Program for Control of Blindness and Visual Impairment (NPCB and VI), Ministry of Health Family and Welfare, Government of India, to date, does not have much about service related to visual disabilities and assistive technologies in its program document. Currently, the visual disability certificate is being issued at the health-care institutions that follow the guidelines laid by MoSJ and E. There is a need to develop a clear policy or an additional component to the existing services to improve access, not limiting to smartphones, to assistive technology for visual impairment as a whole to the people with visual disabilities. Both issuance of disability certificates and dispensing of assistive technology can be done from a single health-care facility. The NPCB and VI can liaise with MoSJ and E so that the ADIP scheme can also be implemented at eye care facilities and promote Non-government or community-based organizations to improve accessibility to smartphones under its public–private partnership initiative.

The Article 25 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities reiterates that persons with visual disabilities should not be ignored or left behind even the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[13] Similarly, at the heart of Sustainable Development Goal, the World Health Organization recognize the inclusion of all disabilities under its pledge to “leave no one behind.” This indicates that there is a need for working collectively, holistically to improve the quality of life, and outcome of disabled individuals, including people with vision loss.


   Conclusion Top


All in all, it is high time that professionals working on, but not limited to vision rehabilitation, and eye care professionals, general health-care practitioners, public health experts, caregivers, family members, other allied health professionals, and special teachers and educators in educational institutions needs to be informed about various usefulness of smartphones in persons with visual disabilities. Such mass information among various stakeholders and providers will help to reduce the challenges faced by people with visual disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby, reduce the pandemic impact. There is a strong need for generating awareness, informing, and education even in the general public on the potential applications and usability of smartphones and their accessible features and apps developed for visual impairment that helps to translate the technology from the developers to both practitioners and end-users. Without such a mass movement across, people with visual disabilities will remain as side-line or secluded from the general population. They should be a part of the digital revolution so that they contribute to society to a large extent with their potentials. At the same time, developers need to understand the requirement and challenges faced by people with visual impairment so that they develop an easy and user-friendly accessible app.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
   References Top

1.
Statista. Number of Smartphone Users in India 2015-2022. Number of Smartphone Users in India 2015-2022. Available from: https//www.statista.com/statistics/1229799/india-smartphone-penetration-rate/; https://www.statista.com/statistics/1229799/india-smartphone-penetration-rate/. [Last accessed on 2021 Jul 04].  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Arif T. Mobile Penetration in India to Spike in the Wake of COVID-19 – Tele-Talk, ET Telecom. Available from: https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/tele-talk/mobile-penetration-in-india-to-spike-in-the-wake-of-covid-19/4274. [Last accessed on 2021 Jul 04].  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Martiniello N, Eisenbarth W, Lehane C, Johnson A, Wittich W. Exploring the use of smartphones and tablets among people with visual impairments: Are mainstream devices replacing the use of traditional visual aids? Assist Technol 2019;7:1-12.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
5.
Android Apps for Users with Visual Impairment, Paths to Literacy. Available from: https://www.pathstoliteracy.org/technology/android-apps-users-visual-impairment. [Last accessed on 2021 Apr 21].  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Irvine D, Zemke A, Pusateri G, Gerlach L, Chun R, Jay WM. Tablet and smartphone accessibility features in the low vision rehabilitation. Neuro Ophthalmol 2014;38:53-9.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Singh Senjam S. Smartphones for Vision Rehabilitation: Accessible Features and Apps, Opportunity, Challenges, and Usability Evaluation. IntechOpen; 200AD Available from: https://www.intechopen.com. [Last accessed on 2021 Jun 11].  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Iyengar K, Upadhyaya GK, Vaishya R, Jain V. COVID-19 and applications of smartphone technology in the current pandemic. Diabetes Metab Syndr 2020;14:733-7.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
Mobile Price in India, Mobile Phones Price List in India; April 5, 2021. Available from: https://www.mysmartprice.com/mobile/pricelist/mobile-price-list-in-india.html. [Last accessed on 2021 Apr 05].  Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.
Fuhrer MJ. Assistive technology outcomes research: Challenges met and yet unmet. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2001;80:528-35.  Back to cited text no. 10
    
11.
Pal J, Viswanathan A, Song JH. Smartphone Adoption among Visually Impaired People in Urban Spaces: Cases from Seoul and Bangalore. Available from: http://www.iamai.in/media/details/4620. [Last accessed on 2021 Nov 08].  Back to cited text no. 11
    
12.
World Health Organization. Assistive Technology, Key Facts. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018.  Back to cited text no. 12
    
13.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) | United Nations. Available from: https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html. [Last accessed on 2020 May 19].  Back to cited text no. 13
    




 

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