These cool features hidden in mobile phones have removed stumbling blocks for more than 85 million people

No monitor or mouse, just wearing headphones and typing on the keyboard.

This is how Zou Shiyong first came into contact with computers. At an age when he seemed to understand, he understood the facts that he could not see in his fall and injury, and found a door that opened to him in information classes and computers.

Zou Shiyong still remembers the sound of the screen-reading software coming from his headphones when he pressed the keyboard. Touch and hearing became his main communication medium with the outside world.

After adulthood, he became a test engineer for Hongmeng and participated in the development of "accessibility" functions. The vision-based graphics operating system gradually has more ways to open it.

Yesterday was December 3rd, the annual International Day for Persons with Disabilities. Barrier-free work works day and night, and the world that is closed to people with disabilities is still being opened little by little by Zou Shiyong.

"Barrier-free" is another way to access the same world

Ajun, similar to Zou Shiyong, is also a visually impaired software engineer. One of his daily jobs is to develop and maintain screen reading software.

I got to know him at an AI lecture in June this year. At that time, he shared his experience of using AI tools. Because he could not see the PPT, there was a slight pause between words, but his words were always clear and clear.

He mentioned that among the visually impaired, basic AI applications have long been popular, such as OCR recognition combined with speech synthesis to read out a certain paragraph of text. Generative AI is also slowly coming in handy. Visually impaired bloggers can use Vincentian tools to generate covers without relying on help from others. At this time, technology has made "synaesthesia" more concrete.

But what impressed me most was one of the details.

Ajun said that due to the improvement of computing power and machine vision technology, the image recognition of mobile phones is getting better and better. Through its image description, when taking pictures of people, the head of the subject can be placed in the middle of the viewfinder, so that the picture will not be blurred. It's so biased that it even runs off the screen.

▲ Picture from: Stills of "Guide Dog Little Q"

It turns out that visually impaired people can also record and share special moments by taking photos, but they need a camera to tell them how to get the right location for the photo.

A lecture broke my ignorance. Xiao Chen, a practitioner in the barrier-free industry, also experienced a huge cognitive change after coming into contact with more visually impaired groups.

Xiao Chen's team once held a "complaint conference" about the visually impaired function. Many visually impaired users were frequently blocked by the "camera" function because no specific instructions were added and they did not know what the place they clicked was used for. , only hearing the "untagged" voice broadcast sounded from time to time, and the harsh sound spread throughout the conference room.

When faced with doubts, the first reaction of Xiao Chen's team was to be confused: "Do people really take pictures in normal times?"

The answers given by visually impaired users are surprisingly consistent: "How you usually use your mobile phone is the same for us."

▲ Picture from: Stills of "Flying Against the Light"

Functions that seem unused may be the functions they care about most. The needs of disabled people for mobile phones and other devices are far richer than imagined.

In order to better understand the reality of them, Xiao Chen decided to observe the daily life of disabled people "like a shadow", commuting, working, eating, and seeking medical treatment with them. Her ideas were refreshed time and time again.

It was originally thought that visually impaired people seldom "watch" videos, but it turns out that videos are used more than music. It was originally thought that visually impaired friends have no connection with games, but in fact they can play auditory-based games, and a small number of them can even play action games. Games, shooting games; there are also many creators among visually impaired people, and they even edit and upload their own selfie videos.

What surprises Xiao Chen and his colleagues the most is that after practice makes perfect, many visually impaired people can use the double-speed screen reading function to play with their mobile phones.

Their fingers jump flexibly on the screen, unlocking, opening software, and playing content in one go. The voice playback is extremely fast, almost beyond the ability of ordinary people to understand, and can even reach 3 times the normal speech speed.

Nothing but familiarity. They are used to playing at double speed. If the playback is too slow, it will delay the efficiency of work and life. Only in this way can they obtain information faster and integrate with the Internet world.

Xiao Chen lamented that many people with disabilities have hidden "superpowers" and cannot be understood with a "taken for granted" mentality. Their lives have not lost vitality due to certain functional impairments, and their demand for mobile phones has only increased.

How to "see" the invisible and "hear" the inaudible?

Discovering needs is like finding the right address, but only by implementing them into functions can letters be delivered and a bridge of communication between everyone be established.

As the International Day of Persons with Disabilities calls, “decisions that concern us cannot be made without our participation.” Whether the functions are useful or not, the right to speak belongs to those who need them most.

Some time ago, I participated in a symposium on mobile phone accessibility. Users with disabilities and product managers communicated face to face and shared how they "see", "hear" and "experience" more parts of the same world through their mobile phones. .

Cai Qionghui is a visually impaired person and a piano tuner. When she first entered the industry, she was questioned a lot: How can an invisible person tune and repair a piano composed of more than 8,800 or even tens of thousands of parts?

As long as you have seen her tuning the piano, your doubts will be clear: touching the position of the tuning pins, operating the tuning wrench, pressing the keys with your fingers, and judging the pitch with your ears. The smooth black surface of the piano reflects her face wearing sunglasses.

She likes the "image description" function on her mobile phone very much. When she opens the camera's viewfinder, what objects are in front of her, where they are on the screen, whether there is text on them, and what the content says will all be announced by voice.

She once froze a warm afternoon, and the camera told her, "It detected two faces of mom and dad. It focused on the face on the upper right side of the screen. The two people were standing in front of a pile of oranges and posing for a photo."

In addition to taking pictures, the camera can also complete visual recognition needs in life, such as confirming the shelf life of food and choosing clothes of appropriate colors.

This year, this function in her mobile phone has improved and can do other things, including back-and-forth "intelligent question and answer".

▲"Intelligent Question and Answer" function.

Double-click and hold on the "viewfinder". A microphone icon will appear on the screen, waiting for a response to the question. For example, when asked "Is there a book on the table?", the mobile phone may answer "Yes, it is in the center of the screen."

Visually impaired friends can "see" invisible scenery, while hearing-impaired friends long to "hear" inaudible sounds.

Similar to how visually impaired people use the camera function, hearing impaired people also answer calls on the side of the road. They also work remotely and record video conferences. The gradual maturity of "speech-to-text" technology can allow real-time sounds to be conveyed in another way. Present.

Urban designer Yang Luye graduated from Tsinghua University with a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's degree in urban design from the University of Sheffield. After talking to her carefully, we discovered that she has severe neurological deafness of 105 decibels in both ears. She wears a hearing aid in her left ear and an artificial implant in her right ear. Cochlea.

Wearing auxiliary equipment, Yang Luye can "hear", and she also hopes to "hear well". However, the noise in noisy environments and the weakening of mouth shape information in video conferences all affect the perception of sound.

The AI ​​subtitle function she is currently using can not only convert voice to text in real time throughout the entire process, but also back up text records, making it easier for her to extract meeting minutes.

▲The text saving function of "AI Subtitles".

Hearing-impaired Zhu Yilin was born with severe congenital deafness. Through cochlear implants and rehabilitation training, she can live a normal life most of the time, but she still needs text to communicate smoothly on the work phone.

Since last year, Zhu Yilin has been able to clearly transmit call sounds to cochlear implants through Bluetooth direct connection with hearing aids. With the Xiaoyi call function, she can see almost accurate text transcription throughout the entire process, achieving better "audio-visual" calls. experience.

She had never made a phone call before, but she actually exceeded 500 minutes of calls in a single month, even for difficult content with a high-speed mind. After each call, she felt more confident when she heard the other party say "Okay, thank you very much."

In fact, what accessibility technology brings to people with disabilities is not only a screen that is easier to control, but also a closer connection between people and a more perceptible real world.

With these functions, people with disabilities can better take taxis, take online classes better, hold video conferences better, and do everything that seems difficult to accomplish.

At the same time, their methods of obtaining information and operations are somewhat unique, which makes feedback on "accessibility" functions particularly important. They should be works completed by developers and users.

Visually impaired test engineers like Zou Shiyong have dual identities as developers and users. They understand both the development logic and how people with disabilities live, and can often accurately discover problems that are difficult for others to detect.

An "accessibility" feature he followed up on before was based on the "double-speed playback" commonly used by visually impaired people. Generally speaking, double-speed playback is more efficient, but the faster the playback speed, the more serious the sound distortion, so he needs to think more deeply: the voice broadcast must be accelerated without affecting the sound quality.

It took a month to solve this "both necessary and necessary" function. During that time, Zou Shiyong listened to the voice back and forth every day, just to hear the subtle improvements in sound quality and implement it faster.

"Barrier-free" is a goal without an end point, and everyone is a participant

Nowadays, accessibility features have become a must-have for almost every smartphone, but at the beginning, their existence could only be said to fill a gap for the disabled group, and they were not very useful.

In the early years, mobile phones were frequently updated, but the improvement of barrier-free experience encountered a bottleneck. Some users don't even dare to upgrade their mobile phones because they are afraid that the "voice broadcast" cannot keep up with frequent feature updates. "When it is speechless, we will be even more speechless."

Even with on-screen reading, "photos" are just "photos" without detailed descriptions, and "buttons" are just "buttons." They don't know what feedback they will get when clicking. Without specific instructions, visually impaired users can only frown and continue. Just guess.

However, the disabled community has never stopped trying to keep up with the world.

"If the mobile phone functions cannot be used, then we may be eliminated." Their characters have a reluctance to admit defeat, not only to make a living, but also to prove themselves.

▲ Picture from: Stills of "Keiko, Gaze"

A Jun, mentioned at the beginning of the article, was interviewed online, but the other person did not feel anything strange. Later, he was shocked when he learned that he could not see.

The following summer, this reporter went to Ajun's home for an interview. The reporter was still looking for the remote control. Ajun had already called the voice assistant to turn on the air conditioner, and then demonstrated on the spot how he programmed and shopped online.

When ChatGPT was first released, Ah Jun tried it out. One of the questions he asked was, what types of careers are more suitable for visually impaired people? The AI's answer was that massage, music, lawyers, psychological counselors, etc. were not limited choices that satisfied him. He studied massage in college. According to popular impression, blind people have a more sensitive sense of touch and have a clearer understanding of acupuncture points, meridians, etc., but he feels that massage should not be the only choice for blind people, nor is it his dream career.

Visually impaired engineers like A Jun and Zou Shiyong strive to make their voices heard to the outside world, so that the "barrier-free" functions that serve them gradually occupy the mainstream view, and then settle down in more details.

Ai Faner also interviewed a blind massage master in 2020 and found that he always adjusted the brightness of his mobile phone to very low, making it almost invisible.

After asking, I found out that on the one hand, it was to save power, and on the other hand, to protect privacy. No one else could see his password, chat content, and shopping records. Only he could hear it at double speed.

Fortunately, this year, Huawei has considered this need from the system level and provided a new solution through Hongmeng. Passwords entered by visually impaired users will be reported as "dots" instead of specific numbers. You can continue to listen to content on your phone when the screen is turned off.

The "accessibility" function should have been rolled up long ago, although people often say that "accessibility" will be truly realized when the word "accessibility" is no longer deliberately mentioned.

But at present, we are still exploring and moving forward. For example, the travel needs of people with disabilities have not been fully met, not only because they cannot hear or see, but also because the outside world will actively create some obstacles.

When visually impaired friends walk in the morning rush hour subway crowds, they are sometimes hit by pedestrians looking at their mobile phones. When visually impaired friends take a walk, they sometimes encounter vehicles blocking the blind road at intersections.

These obstacles continue to occur…

▲ Picture from: Stills of "Hearing Girl"

Statistics from the China Disabled Persons' Federation show that the number of disabled people in China has reached 85 million.

However, according to the definition of "information accessibility", everyone is likely to become a "disabled" group at some point, falling into "situational barriers" or "temporary barriers", such as the noisy environmental sound of the subway covering up speech. , throat hoarse and unable to speak.

Inconveniences caused by various reasons, when magnified to a certain extent, may result in visual impairment, hearing impairment, or physical impairment.

Technologies like AI are not just technology, but infrastructure for people with disabilities. Many people may think that the AI ​​function of mobile phones is dispensable, but for people with disabilities, AI is an increasingly bright light in a dark world.

Ajun has a dream. In the future, he may be able to travel alone in the city by car, or he may lead an electronic guide dog to give a speech without the company of his colleagues, just like a drop of water in the ocean.

In this goal with no end, everyone is a participant, whether it is people with disabilities who raise demands, developers and engineers who solve problems, or those who carefully park shared bicycles outside the blind lane and lend a helping hand in time. You and I.

It is as sharp as autumn frost and can ward off evil disasters. Work email: [email protected]

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