The importance of digital inclusion was highlighted today at NCBI’s Technology Showcase 2012, where nine designers of inclusive technologies battled against each other in an exhibition-style showcase for a cash prize of €3,000, sponsored by NCBI and presented to winner Kieran O’Callaghan for his development AquaEye, by Pat Rabbitte TD, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
AquaEye is a swimming aid for people who are blind or vision impaired, letting them know when they are approaching the end of the lane. According to Cork Institute of Technology Phd student and designer Kieran O’Callaghan, people who are blind or vision impaired generally have lower levels of fitness than their sighted peers. “Swimming is one of the most appropriate forms of exercise as few obstacles are encountered. AquaEye enables vision impaired swimmers to swim independently by sending alerts, via a waterproof receiver, that they are approaching the end of the lane.” Kieran was recently awarded European Student Innovator of the Year for another project for blind people.
Minister Pat Rabbitte said that more and more designers and businesses are recognising the potential in taking accessibility and usability into account at the design stage. “Ultimately, inclusive designs can improve the bottom line as the product has a wider appeal. Not all of the products on display today were designed specifically for people who are blind or vision impaired, but all were designed in an inclusive way. In keeping with my department’s digital inclusion agenda I am glad to see that young, innovative designers are seeing the potential in this approach, rather than seeing disability as a barrier.”
The showcase, which was organised by NCBI’s Centre for Inclusive Technology, set out to promote digital inclusion in Ireland, with a specific focus on vision and vision loss. Design entries comprised of technologies which were designed in an inclusive way and those which specifically address the needs of users who are blind or vision impaired.
According to Dr Mark Magennis, Director of NCBI’s Centre for Inclusive Technology, technology has opened up the world to people who are blind or vision impaired. “Technological advances have broken down many barriers for people with sight loss but accessibility has often been an afterthought in the design process, resulting in some badly designed technologies which have unintentionally created barriers. Retrofitting can prove costly and time-consuming. But the designers who took part in this showcase are setting a different trend.”
NCBI is the national sight loss agency offering support and services to people who are blind or vision impaired. A study published by NCBI in 2011 entitled ‘The Cost of Sight Loss: the economic impact of vision impairment and blindness in the Republic of Ireland’ showed that there are currently 224,000 people in Ireland who have mild, moderate and severe sight loss. Mild sight loss occurs when the person is no longer able to drive. This figure is expected to rise to 380,000 by 2020.
The Centre for Inclusive Technology was established in 2005 with the aim of working towards an information society that is accessible to all.
For more information contact Fionnuala Murphy on 087 4116925.
For more information on AquaEye visit http://visionre.cit.ie/index.cfm/page/aquaeye.