RadioShack Announces Point of Sale, Web Site Initiative for Customers with Visual Impairments
In a move praised by state and national blindness organizations, RadioShack (NYSE:RSH) announced it has undertaken a nationwide initiative to improve services for RadioShack’s customers with visual impairments. RadioShack will install new point of sale equipment with tactile keypads to protect the privacy and security of visually impaired shoppers and will make improvements to its web site that will benefit visually impaired shoppers and other customers with disabilities.
The announcement is the result of collaboration between RadioShack and major blindness organizations including the American Foundation for the Blind, American Council of the Blind, and California Council of the Blind.
Point of Sale Improvements
It is anticipated that by the end of September 2007, every RadioShack store will have the new device, which is designed to protect the financial privacy of blind and visually impaired shoppers. The devices, manufactured by Ingenico have tactile keys arranged like a standard telephone keypad and plug easily into existing point of sale payment terminals. The new units will allow RadioShack shoppers, who have difficulty reading information on a touch screen, to privately and independently enter their PIN, telephone number, and other confidential information.
Blind community representatives praised RadioShack’s plan to upgrade its point of sale devices. “Point of sale devices must have tactile keys so blind people do not have to share their PIN with strangers,” explained Melanie Brunson, executive director of the American Council of the Blind. “Today’s announcement, and the collaboration that led to it, demonstrates RadioShack’s understanding of this fact and its strong commitment to blind and visually impaired customers.”
Web Site Access
The initiative includes RadioShack’s commitment to design RadioShack.com in accordance with guidelines issued by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (w3c). The guidelines, which do not affect the content or look and feel of a Web site, ensure that web sites are accessible to persons with a wide range of disabilities. The guidelines are of particular benefit to blind computer users who use screen reader or magnification technology on their computers and who rely on a keyboard instead of a mouse.
"Web site accessibility is of critical importance to both the blind community and to people with disabilities generally,” said Paul Schroeder, vice president, programs and policy group of the American Foundation for the Blind. “We applaud RadioShack's leadership role in committing to address the accessibility of its web site, thereby improving the browsing and shopping experience for a broad range of on-line shoppers."
“The program announced today is one way we can help customers who are blind or visually impaired enjoy a better shopping experience in their neighborhood RadioShack stores as well as on RadioShack.com and complements our on-going efforts to improve the shopping experience of all our customers with disabilities,” said Frank Espinoza, vice president–store operations of RadioShack Corporation. “RadioShack would like to thank the American Council of the Blind, the California Council of the Blind, and the American Foundation for the Blind, for their cooperation and expertise in making RadioShack a better place to shop for our customers with disabilities.”
RadioShack Corporation has a presence through more than 6,000 company-operated stores and dealer outlets in the United States, over 100 RadioShack locations in Mexico and nearly 800 wireless phone kiosks. For more information on RadioShack Corporation, or to purchase items online, visit RadioShack.com.
ACB and CCB
American Council of the Blind is a national consumer-based advocacy organization working on behalf of blind and visually impaired Americans throughout the country, with members organized through seventy state and special interest affiliates. California Council of the Blind is the California affiliate of the ACB, and is a statewide membership organization, with 40 local chapters and statewide special interest associations. ACB and CCB are dedicated to improving the quality of life, equality of opportunity and independence of all people who have visual impairments. Their members and affiliated organizations have a long history of commitment to the advancement of policies and programs which will enhance independence for people who are blind and visually impaired.
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB's priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources.
Seeing with Sounds, My Segue into Vision by Pranav Lal I want to introduce you to seeing with sound technology. It is "cool technology," a great enabler and has several practical applications.
As of today, there are a few applications that actively utilize seeing with sound. One exception is The vOICe, created by Dr. Peter B.L Meijer, the audio graphing calculator from View Plus Technologies and Math Trax of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The vOICe seeing-with-sound software translates images from a PC camera (webcam) into sounds that you hear via your stereo headphones, thus targeting vision substitution applications for the totally blind. Some blind people wear it daily with a wearable setup to "see" their environment as they go around, while other blind people (blind from birth) use it to experience for the very first time what vision is like.
My introduction to The vOICe came in early 2001. I had read e-mails on various mailing lists from Dr. Meijer regarding the software he had created. However, at that time, my impression was that I needed a webcam to use the software. That has actually never been the case. Around that time, I bought an Acer laptop since I needed it for B-school. The laptop came with a free webcam and this was the catalyst that spurred me on to trying The vOICe.
The first time that I plugged in the camera, I heard a meaningless jumble of sound. I decided to experiment. I had a cousin draw me two lines, one going from bottom to top and the other going from top to bottom. When I sonified those lines, I found that they looked the same. I learned my first important lesson. The vOICe, or for that matter an image, does not capture the motion of the pen. The two lines are effectively the same. In addition, this underscored the importance of learning the soundscape mapping.
The mapping refers to understanding what attributes of the soundscape match attributes of the object. Namely, whatever object is on your left you hear on your left and, similarly, whatever object is on your right you hear on your right. The pitch represents height; therefore, the higher the pitch, the higher the object. The volume represents brightness, such that the louder the sound, the brighter the object.
You may wonder how such a mapping translates into vision. The answer is all sensory input from any organ of the body is translated into electrical impulses. For example, once light hits the retina, it is translated into a series of electrical impulses and then relayed to the brain. Similarly, when you hear a particular bit of sound, that sound is converted into electrical impulses. The vOICe works on the principle of neural plasticity.
Neural plasticity refers to the ability of the human brain to reconfigure itself based on external stimuli. In people who are visually impaired, the visual cortex gets utilized for other functions. However, when the brain receives the particular set of sounds that translate into suitable electrical impulses, it realizes that it is actually getting visual input. Never mind the fact that the input is from the ears. It knows that the most efficient way to process this visual input is to use the visual cortex since it has been designed for this purpose. Thus, the visual cortex gets re-recruited for visual functions.
You may ask: if this happens, will you as a visually impaired person lose some of your abilities? In over five years of usage, I have not found this to be the case, nor has anyone else I know. We are still not sure what the precise mechanism of recruitment is though. There are a number of active projects that are working on neural plasticity.
Once I had mastered the mapping, I started to look around. I looked at doors, windows, tables, chairs, my computer and anything else that was in sight. At one point, I was tempted to memorize different sounds that an object would make. However, I realized the futility of this task. An object could be viewed from any angle that each time yields a different soundscape, and the best way to get input and learn how to see is to keep the mapping of the soundscape in mind. Trying to memorize objects and their sounds will be like memorizing how to do a particular set of problems in mathematics. The implication of this is that when one would be faced with a slightly different problem, one would not know how to do it since one has actually not learned the technique to solve that class of problems. The same applies to seeing with sound.
The vOICe gives you raw visual input that other systems do not. There is absolutely no attempt at description, and it is up to your brain to figure out what it is looking at. Another thing to be aware of is not to equate vision to touch. They are completely different senses.
The primary advantage of the vOICe for me has been that it has allowed me to acquire remote sensing capabilities. So, no more groping along the wall. In addition, it has allowed me to perceive things that I could not easily perceive using touch such as curtains and screen doors. All this without any surgery and using off-the-shelf hardware.
The two main drawbacks of the vOICe are, first, it has a frame rate of one frame per second, which is slow for mobility applications, and second, it does not allow the user to perceive light. However, this is not a significant issue since the mapping caters to providing information about the brightness of an object. We have barely begun to explore the possibilities of seeing with sound. As research on neural plasticity increases, more applications are expected to emerge. Seeing with sound can best be known experientially. Are you listening? To contact the writer, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The writer is an information security consultant for Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd.The opinions expressed in this article are the writer's.
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