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Top turn out for tech event in NI for people affected by sight loss

Yesterday (Wednesday 28 February), the Europa Hotel in Belfast played host to RNIB’s Technology for Life Fair - the biggest showcase of assistive technology products for blind and partially sighted people in Northern Ireland. The event brought together the industry’s leading suppliers of technology related products and services all under one roof.

RNIB staff demonstrate products to visitors

Over 400 visitors affected by sight loss took the opportunity to browse over 20 exhibitors and speak directly to representatives from leading suppliers of assistive technology. Alongside the exhibition, a series of tech talks throughout the day informed visitors of the advantages of specially designed apps on smartphones and tablets and demos of the latest magnification and screen reading applications. The event also featured presentations from Encompass, the Health and Social Care digital records project. Another highlight was a representative from the Education Authority NI sharing details of the technology support provided to students with a vision impairment.

Staff from RNIB (The Royal National Institute of Blind People), were delighted to welcome Councillor Ryan Murphy Lord Mayor of Belfast to the event. The Lord Mayor was taken on a tour of the exhibition by Director of RNIB in Northern Ireland, Robert Shilliday. He spent time speaking with visitors to get an understanding of the difference assistive technology makes to the lives of those affected by sight loss.

Councillor Ryan Murphy, Lord Mayor of Belfast, said: “We’re working hard in council to make Belfast a more inclusive city which works for everyone. Today’s event is a superb showcase of how technology can be used to unlock challenges faced by people with sight loss and ensure everyone is able to access vital services. From smartphone apps addressing everyday needs to cutting-edge software, it’s been inspiring to find out more today about the various products and technologies available to remove barriers and make sure no-one feels left behind.”

Simone lives in Newry and has sight loss due to macular degeneration. Simone uses technology every day to enable her independence and tries hard to stay up to date with the latest in assistive technology.

Simone says: “I think the item of tech I just couldn’t live without would be my iPad. It’s just the right size and between the large screen and Voice Over, Apple’s screen reader, I find it invaluable. I’ve just about enough peripheral vision now to still see the screen. I also love my iPhone and use a few different apps to help me. Seeing AI and Be My Eyes are two of my favourites. I’ve recently started to learn to use another screen reading software called JAWS for Windows on a laptop computer. This has been a real learning curve for me, as I used to use a Mac when I had better sight.

“I use my iPad for all sorts of things. From streaming TV shows to online shopping. I would tend to use my iPhone for reading short text like receipts and reading labels in the kitchen.

“It’s so frustrating when a website isn’t fully accessible to me, and I have to ask my daughter or someone else to help me complete a task that I should be able to do by myself. I often find that I have to switch between different technology to get a job done - like between iPad and iPhone. If they don’t work, I have to then move over to the laptop. At the moment I’m receiving support through RNIB’s SkillSET project and IT training in office applications is part of that.

“I really enjoyed RNIB’s Technology for Life Fair. Events like this are a great opportunity to get your hands on the latest updated tech and software. I love to try new gadgets and tech to see if they will fit with how I live my life and if they’ll assist me to do what I need to do.”

RNIB’S Technology for Life Fair event boasted the biggest names in assistive technology including Optelec, OrCam, Dolphin, Sight and Sound, Human Ware and, of course, RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People).

Many people experience a loss of digital skills after acquiring sight loss due to a lack of confidence and basic awareness or knowledge of accessibility features like text to speech or magnification.

According to research, people with sight loss are twice as likely to be digitally excluded – 28% of people with sight loss say they never use the internet or don’t have access to it. This is much higher than the proportion of people with other disabilities at 13% with the figure for non-disabled people standing at just 4%.

People with sight loss are also less likely to own a smart phone, with only 54% owning a smartphone, 28% owning a regular mobile phone and 18% not owning a mobile phone at all.

There are multiple barriers to the digital world for people with sight loss that include cost, capability, and confidence, access to training opportunities, as well as accessibility and safety concerns.

However, people with sight loss say that the benefits of tech are many, including:

  • Communicating with others and accessing information more easily
  • The ability to better manage health and wellbeing
  • Increased independence and confidence and reduced reliance on others
  • Access to leisure and entertainment, offering new opportunities for enjoying free time and the ability to pursue new hobbies
  • Managing money and accessing money-saving deals

RNIB’s Technology for Life Coordinator Jackie Brown, said: “The RNIB Technology for Life Fair was the highlight of my year. It was just wonderful to see so many people coming together to find out the latest developments in the assistive technology that is such an integral part of the lives of blind and partially sighted people. In my role with the RNIB’s Technology for Life service, I see the real practical difference technology can make to a person’s life.

“It doesn’t have to mean flashy expensive tech. A liquid level indicator can be life changing if you’re struggling to make a cup of tea following sight loss. Advances in technology continue to open up the world around us, enabling people with sight loss to live independently, access information, grasp opportunities and be creative.

“We wanted to organise an event that brought together the industry leaders in assistive technology here in Northern Ireland. It’s one thing to read about some of this technology but it’s quite another thing to get your hands on the latest products and try them for yourself.”

For further information on support provided by RNIB please visit RNIB Northern Ireland