The VizWiz app for the iPhone is humanising technology at its best. It’s a remarkable fusion of social networking and innovative technology. Blind and partially sighted people can take a picture of an object, voice record a question about the object, and send it out into the ether for identification.
When you have little or no usable sight, one of the biggest challenges is identifying things about you. Some things are obvious of course, there’s no mistaking a hairbrush even if you try. Other things are more tricky.
Working out whether there are baked beans in the tin, or something you wouldn’t ever want to eat on toast, is a common challenge. Ok, if you’re organised you probably have talking tins, but you understand my point.
VizWiz offers a simple solution to the problem. Take a picture of the tin with your iPhone, record a short question such as “What’s in the tin?” and send it off. Apart from its simplicity, the main strength of VizWiz is that it lets you choose where to send your picture and question.
You can send them to the unsung heros of VizWiz, the web workers. These are real people who take time out to help blind and partially sighted folks identify the random objects that have them puzzled.
If you want a more speedy response, you can send them out to the IQ engine instead. It uses object recognition to identify the item in your picture, and answer your question. It’s certainly quicker, but not always as helpful or accurate as the web workers.
Email or Twitter
You can also call on your Twitter followers to help out. VizWiz lets you post your picture and question out via your tweet stream.
If you’d rather ask someone directly though, you can email anyone in your contacts and ask them to take a look at the object you’re trying to identify instead.
The only thing that’s missing from VizWiz is a way to thank the web worker who helped you out. If someone on Twitter helps you, or if the person you emailed provides the answer you’re looking for, it’s easy enough to say thanks. The patience (taking photos when you can’t see where you’re aiming isn’t the greatest guarantee of accuracy), dedication and simple human kindness of the web workers really do deserve the biggest thanks of all.