Working for People with Sight Loss

Microsoft launches Soundscape app to enable people to explore the world around them

Michael Leah using soundscape on his mobile

Microsoft rolls out the free app available from today

App uses 3D audio cues to help users explore their environment

 

Dublin, 3rd August 2021 – Microsoft today announced the launch of Soundscape in Ireland, an app that has been designed to enable people to explore the world around them through a 3D experience.

The Microsoft Soundscape app uses innovative audio-based technology to enable people to build a richer awareness of their surroundings, thus becoming more confident and independent when moving around their town, city or local area.

Unlike step-by-step navigation apps, Soundscape uses 3D audio cues that help build a mental map of their surrounding and provides a new way for people to relate to their environment. We have found that people use Soundscape in a number of different and creative ways! Recently, we came across an example of a group of 11 year old students using Soundscape to create a heritage trail of historical sites in their town. With Soundscape, they created a 3D spatial audio experience from one landmark to another and as the trail unfolded more and more of the town’s history was revealed to the user.

In another example of how Soundscape can assist users in navigating their environment, Microsoft has been collaborating with NCBI (National Council for the Blind in Ireland) to test the Soundscape app locally. Over the past year, mobility specialists at NCBI have been working directly with service users to help them use the app and provide feedback on its impact on their daily lives.

One such user is Michael Leahy, a 38-year-old native of Dublin, who has used the Microsoft Soundscape app to build up his confidence in travelling independently and getting back into work after losing his sight just 18 months ago.

Michael Leah wearing earphonesSpeaking about the impact of Soundscape, Michael Leahy said: “When I lost my vision, my world was turned upside down. I didn’t know what to do or how to move forward. I was losing my sense of self and my confidence in the process.

“After I completed my foundational mobility training NCBI introduced me to the Microsoft Soundscape app. I knew very quickly I had found a tool that could really improve the quality of my daily life. The app helped me to navigate my daily routes and to start going out independently. Being mobile has given me back my independence and the confidence to find employment. The Soundscape app has been truly life-changing.”

Photo of Chantelle Chantelle Smith, National Access and Mobility Manager, at NCBI explained that: “Technology is a huge enabler for people living with a vision impairment or blindness. Over the past year, I’ve seen first-hand how the Microsoft Soundscape app has supported Michael to regain the independence that went with him losing his sight.

“Soundscape has the potential to positively impact the lives of almost 55,000 people in Ireland who are blind or vision impaired to more freely navigate the world around them. We’re thrilled that it is now available for free here in Ireland and I’d encourage those within the community to download it and use it to its full potential.”

Speaking about the launch, James O’Connor, Vice President of Microsoft International Operations, said: “At Microsoft, we believe that technology can play a vital role in creating a more inclusive Ireland and empowering positive change in our society. By collaborating with NCBI and its service users, we’ve observed the profound impact that Soundscape has on people’s lives, enabling them to live, work and play with a renewed sense of independence and confidence.

“Michael’s story is a powerful example of what can be achieved when we harness the power of accessible technology to help everyone in our community to reach their true potential. By making the Soundscape app available for free, in collaboration with NCBI, we hope to help people who are blind or vision impaired to navigate and connect with the world around them.” 
Soundscape is designed to be used by everyone and allows the user to switch effortlessly between using the app in the real world or in the virtual world, helping to build a richer awareness of their surroundings and enabling them to explore and learn about their environment.  Soundscape can be downloaded for free via the App Store for iOS devices. Visit Microsoft Soundscape to find out more.
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