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Shopping companion for the visually impaired

  • Rohan, Pending
  • Most visually impaired people find it strenuous to perform tasks that we take for granted. Something as simple as going online to buy a clock can be tough for people with visual impairments. A simple google search can show you forums where people talk about the difficulties they face while navigating websites that weren't built for the visually impaired.

    Most e-commerce websites today (amazon,flipkart,ebay), are not designed for people with disabilities. They have small buttons, really cluttered UI and whole collection of drop down menus, which makes it very difficult for them to navigate and use. This is why the need for a simple yet effective website with all the right menus and sounds for the visually impaired is very important.

  • I'd like to talk more about the contributors of the problem.

    The websites that are commonly used for online shopping (Amazon, Flipkart) are designed with the average Joe in mind. The home page is made super attractive with very colorful text and pictures, list of offers and all the other stuff that attracts a user to their site. For a person with visual impairments, having a menu with so many different things, makes it difficult even when they are using a text to speech program to read the items. This robs them of their ability to shop for items without encountering minor hiccups.

    While I'm yet to talk to a visually impaired person regarding their difficulty to shop, I was able to find several accounts of people who said how difficult it is for them to shop online. Websites like Quora and Reddit were super helpful, as I got to know the first hand stories of the affected people from around the world.

  • Transcript of an interview with a visually impaired friend of mine. For privacy reasons, I will not be disclosing his name here.

     

    After exchanging pleasantries, we decided to get right into the issue.

    Me: So, I know that you're a huge fan of technology, can you tell me more about your favourite aspects of it?

    Him: Well, I like that most modern technologies have given a thought about people like me. Earlier, finding accessible technologies were very difficult like finding a proper text to speech software was very difficult. Using phones and computers seemed impossible.

    Me: What is it that you like in modern computers? The ease of use or something else?

    Him: The ease of use for sure. Windows for example, has had a history of being downright horrible. Back in the XP and the early Windows 7 days, it was very hard for me to use these computers as most text to speech solutions were terrible. Moreover using smartphones was out of question for me as older versions of android didn't seem to have many accessibility features. I liked using feature phones back then because I could at least feel the physical keys when I typed on them (*laughs*)

    Me: Haha, that's great, may be we will have smartphones with tactile keyboards in the future. Speaking of which, what are the things you feel like you can't enjoy when it comes to technology?

    Him: Well for starters, games. I really feel jealous when people talk about the latest video games, I wish I could play them but even the simplest video game has a lot of visual stimuli which is difficult for me to process. The second is surfing the web. Watching videos, looking up recipes or getting instructions for putting lego is relatively simple. However, there isn't a standard format for these websites and people like me have a really hard time searching for that one menu or button on the website. It gets really frustrating and I often have to seek help from someone else.

    Me: I myself find it very difficult to browse some websites because of how poorly they are designed. So I can imagine how hard it is for you. Speaking of poorly designed websites, do you shop online?

    Him: Yes! I actually bought myself a nice pair of headphones for the Diwali sale on Flipkart this month!

    Me: Oh that's great! Do you shop by yourself or do you require assistance from someone else?

    Him: I actually do require assistance. Some text to speech services aren't good enough at telling me what discounts there are, or how many products are on sale. And since there are countless menus and floating bars, it becomes difficult for me to select the right one and I often end up clicking the wrong button.

    Me: Oh I see, on a scale of say 1-10 1 being the easiest and 10 being the hardest, how would you define your difficulty of shopping online?

    Him: Oh definitely a solid 8.

    Me: Are there any solutions available for this currently in the market?

    Him: I don't know if there are any solutions to this yet, as I am yet to come across one.

    Me: Okay, in a hypothetical scenario, if someone built an app or a product that could help people such as yourself to navigate through websites like amazon or flipkart, would you be willing to buy it?

    Him: Of course! What is the price of independence? If there is such a product out there then I would have bought it a long time back. Unless it's too expensive of course. *laughs*

    Me: No, no it will be priced reasonably only! What would be your definition of a solution to this problem?

    Him: I know this sounds childish, but I have always dreamed of having glasses that could magically cure my vision. I know that this is not possible, but I would like to use any gadget as long as it isn't too intrusive and is easy to use and doesn't rely on my visual sense.

    Me: Noted. Thank you so much for your valuable input!

    Him: You don't need to thank me, just build me a cool thing. *laughs*

     

     

     

  • Before implementing the solution:

    People with disabilities have to bear the brunt of dealing with the dependence on others. Despite the advancement of technology, the less fortunate among us seem to be suffering just how they used to before the technology even existed.

    Something as simple as going to a shopping site, selecting a product, comparing it with other products, adding it to cart and finally buying it is very difficult for people with visual impairments. They often have to depend on somebody else to do the work for them. And many a times, this affects their self esteem and also is an invasion to their privacy.

    After implementing the solution:

    This solution hopes to give the people with some semblance of independence to actually shop online and to buy the products that they want. They will not need to depend on another person for their online shopping and can handle everything on their own. This is what I hope to achieve by implementing my solution.

     

December 1, 2019

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