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Singapore’s Digital Access for the Visually Impaired

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With the support of the Digital for Life Fund administered by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and Guide Dogs Singapore (GDS) collaborate on a project to develop effective training and learning resource toolkit for individuals with visual impairment.

The project, which is based on “experience-based co-design,” aims to bridge the digital gap for people with visual impairments by teaching them how to operate smartphones and mobile apps that may not have been specifically developed with their usual requirements.

Smartphones are largely created with images in mind, making it difficult to integrate technical concepts with the learner’s inherent understanding. Persons with visual impairments may have difficulties learning how to navigate the latest gizmos in the digital world without sufficient instruction and help.

However, Tan Hwei Lan, Senior Lecturer at SIT, was driven to question the existing quo considering these issues. While advancements in assistive technology devices give more useful assistance to people with vision impairments, she believes that better training resources are just as crucial in providing access to digital gadgets that can support them in their daily lives.

Collaboration is critical for a project of this magnitude. Using all stakeholders’ skills and experience throughout the toolkit’s fundamental design would ensure that it is well-suited to serve the diverse needs of individuals with visual impairment, making the learning process more organic and impactful.

– Tan Hwei Lan, Senior Lecturer, Singapore Institute of Technology

Another stumbling block is the design of assistive technology devices’ user interfaces and user experiences. Learners might easily get disengaged and lose interest when they are overwhelmed with new technical terms.

Better tools at a trainer’s disposal could greatly improve the dynamic and relationship between them, making it easier for the learner to take in new information. For example, the trainer could connect with the learner on an emotional level or make a personalised training programme for them.

Furthermore, the project is divided into two parts, the first of which involves the beneficiaries as participants in the co-design process, allowing the SIT and GDS research team to thoroughly understand their needs and construct the toolkit with specific challenges in mind. The toolkit will be rigorously tested by stakeholders and refined until it is ready for public distribution in phase two, which is set to begin in early 2023. The project will be off this year with co-design sessions to better understand the community’s requirements and close the research gap.

Without the right help and guidance, people who are blind or have low vision may find it hard to figure out how to use the latest gadgets in the digital world. Chia Hong Sen from GDS says that a “personal touch” is very important when helping a person with a visual impairment figure out how to use a new device. “Based on the preliminary research findings, I am encouraged to learn that our approach to teaching is shared by other trainers outside of Singapore.”

SIT and GDS, with the help of IMDA’s Digital for Life Fund, have the potential to become the “go-to” resource for a user-centric curriculum, saving users and their trainers the time and effort of scouring the many different resources available.

As long as IMDA continues to support worthwhile projects like this one, organisations like SIT and GDS will have the resources they need to develop meaningful solutions that will help Singaporeans build a more equitable digital society. IMDA administers the Digital for Life Fund, which provides monetary support to non-profit organisations that promote digital inclusion, literacy, and wellbeing.


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