January is Assistive Technology Month here at Braille Institute. So, to kick off this year’s campaign, we interviewed two leading voices in the assistive technology field: Sam Seavey and Mike May. As both professionals working within the field and users with visual impairments, Seavey and May bring a unique perspective to the topic.
Later this month, Seavey and May will also be leading exclusive workshops — you can find more information and registration links at the end of this post.
Interview with Sam Seavey and Mike May:
First, may you please introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, and how you work with assistive technology.
Sam: My name is Sam Seavey, and I am the owner and operator of “The Blind Life” YouTube channel. I make videos about living life with vision loss and encouraging others to live their best blind lives. With over 50,000 subscribers, my channel has become one of the one of the best resources for information about assistive technology for the blind community. I also work as an assistive technology program manager at a nonprofit dedicated to helping those affected by vision loss.
Mike: I am Mike May, currently Chief Evangelist of GoodMaps, a pedestrian navigation company focusing on indoor navigation. I have worked in accessible navigation much of my career, including my own company, Sendero Group, for 18 years. I was recently inducted into the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame for my contributions in accessible and other technologies. I am a firm believer that the better one gets around, the better you can engage in life.
What sparked your interest in the assistive technology field?
Sam: I started using assistive technology in middle school, and as I got older, my interest in all types of technology grew. Prior to starting my own YouTube channel, I made videos for another company reviewing mobile technology.
Mike: My interest was very selfish. I wanted more information about my surroundings, which is what GPS brought in the late 90s, way more than sighted friends or family could provide. I thought of other challenges like knowing who else was in a reception or in a bar and developed the People Finder app.
How has assistive technology impacted your day-to-day life? Which devices have you found most useful in gaining independence?
Sam: I can honestly say that I would not be able to do either of my jobs without assistive technology. As an AT trainer, I’m constantly demonstrating all types of assistive devices and software. I spend much of my time in the office working on the computer, which would not be possible without the accessibility of the Windows platform. This also allows me to edit and upload all my YouTube videos. I produced these videos independently thanks to the accessibility of both my camera and computer. Along with my computer, I find my smart phone and the accessibility within to give me the most independence.
Mike: Many apps have improved independence around reading, like the OCR apps and visual assistance apps. The greatest advancement of this century is rideshare. I am so much more independent, going where I want, when I want.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to learn more about assistive technology and use it to better their life, but doesn’t know where to start?
Sam: I always tell people to do a little research. There are amazing resources available if you just spend some time looking for them. Jump onto Google and do a quick search for some relative keywords: blind, low vision, assistive technology, etc. See if there are any low vision centers in your area. If there are, make an appointment to sit down with an assistive technology specialist for an evaluation. Also consider searching for information on YouTube. There are hundreds of great videos talking about assistive technology for the blind!
Mike: Read publications like this. Listen to Mosen at Large, Blind Bargains, and more.
What do you imagine the future of assistive technology has in store? What niches still need to be filled, and what do you hope to find on the market in the next few years?
Sam: In the future, I think we will see the devices getting smaller and smaller with the advent of better battery technology. I also think we will see more integration of virtual and augmented reality.
Although we have a few options currently, I believe there still needs to be better accessible cell phone options for those who don’t want to use smartphones.
I would love to see the integration of haptic clothing with navigational apps. Imagine if you could choose a destination in your favorite app, and then feel a vibration coming from your jacket in the direction that you need to walk. Then, to take it a step further, pair that up with AR glasses that would display a bright, high contrast line on the ground in front of you leading you to your destination!
Mike: I want to see a more robust version of our People Finder technology. Camera glasses are now on the market. I want to see them cheaper and more flexible with apps, so it is not necessary to hold the camera phone in your hand.
We hope you enjoyed reading Seavey and May’s thoughtful insights on the role assistive technology plays in the lives of users with visual impairments. You can join Seavey for his workshop, “Expand Your Blind Life with Sam Seavey,” on January 11, and May on January 26 for “Get Going with Mike May and GoodMaps.” Registration is completely free and open to the public, and both workshops are eligible for CEU credits.