Rwanda: Inclusivity in Technology - a Case of the Talkback App for the Visually Impaired

22 January 2020

Marceline Gato, 26, is finalising her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism and Communication at the University of Rwanda.

When Gato was seven years old, she developed a very big cyst on her temple. Her parents feared for her life, but a few days later, it disappeared.

She then lost her sight, and although no one knew what happened, her family thinks it was caused by the cyst.

Gato and other people who are visually impaired face a range of challenges; not finding braille books in libraries, not being able to cross roads without a helper, and not being able to go to new places without aid, among others.

However, as the world is at the climax of innovation, People Living With Disabilities (PLWDs) are also getting solutions that help them in their daily lives through technology.

For the visually impaired, they can now use smartphones in reading soft books, calling, sending text messages, using social media, among other services.

They use accessibility services for operating systems, which help visually impaired users interact with their devices more easily. The screen reader software adds spoken, audible and vibration feedback to their devices.

These voice-over applications range from operating systems. For Gato, she uses 'TalkBack' a free screen reader app for Android.

She explained to The New Times how she uses her phone. "You touch and listen to what the voice says. If it's an application you're looking for, maybe Facebook, you slide through the application. When you reach Facebook, you double click, and it opens."

"Even when you want to type a message, you open the keyboard and click on letters. When the voice says the letter you wanted, you double click to write it. Everything you want to open or authorise, you double click." Gato can also read notes on her phone.

She then explained how it was very different before she had access to the software.

"How can I even compare? I had a push-button telephone, that I couldn't see, and didn't read for me. I had to memorise the keyboard, where every digit was. I also had to memorise people's contacts, or called someone to help me look for it."

She had to memorise button sounds, to know how to lock or unlock her phone.

Gato thinks more innovations should be done to make life easier for PLWDs.

"In some countries, on pedestrian crossing zones and traffic lights, there are vocal machines that help visually impaired people know when to cross the road without asking other people for help. Even in buses, when a bus reaches a stop, there is a voice that says the location reached, and one knows they have to get out, without asking people where they are reaching."

She also thinks school libraries should have the latest books in braille or soft, so the visually impaired don't lag behind in their studies.

Callixte Ikuzwe is also visually impaired.

He works for 'Hope in His Vision', an NGO that helps blind and visually impaired persons living in extreme poverty in Rwanda reach their full potential. He narrates to the New Times the beauty of having innovations that are friendly to PLWDs.

"When someone doesn't have arms or legs, or can't see, and there is an application that you can use to compensate what you don't have, it is something really important."

"If the applications were not there, we would not be able to use smartphones. It is the one that guides a disabled person to see by giving them the independence to use the phone. TalkBack is the most used because it can be installed on many types of phones."

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