Project Ray, smart phone, applications for visually impaired Project Ray, smart phone, applications for visually impaired Project Ray has created a special interface and set of applications so that the visually-impaired can access rich features provided by a smartphone. (Photo: Courtesy Project Ray)

New smartphone a hit with the blind community

Melding state-of-the-art hardware and software, Project Ray gives the visually impaired new opportunities.

We can take our smartphones for granted. They are our lifelines to safety, education and our social life. But the blind and visually impaired are often locked out of this opportunity. The smooth screen is a minefield of buttons that the fingers of the blind can’t effectively open.

Ricardo Walker, who is visually impaired and living in New York City, hasn't put much faith in smartphones. Using them "seemed like an impossible task," Walker tells From The Grapevine. He's not alone. Ten percent of all Americans are blind or visually impaired. They are mostly excluded from the mobile revolution.

Then a phone called Ray came along. The device and its applications are built with Walker's needs in mind.

Developed by the Israel-based Project Ray, the phone allows Walker to consolidate multiple devices he’d normally carry around, like a label identifier, into one. Using Ray, “I find myself moving more and more daily tasks from specially made devices into mobile applications,” he says.

The idea for the phone came about when company CEO Boaz Zilberman and his friends were volunteering at a library for the blind. They were looking for a way to give back to the community after successfully selling their first startup.

The phone, now available in the United States, comes loaded with 20 custom applications, so that everyday tasks – like making a call, sending a text message or catching the next bus – don't feel like walking in the dark. These apps apply sensors, voice command software, research for the blind and novel software inventions that help people who cannot see use a smartphone.

On Ray, a user slides a finger on the screen, triggering a series of sounds. The user chooses from several options, including opening an email or sending an SMS, and the choice is activated when the finger is lifted. Voice prompts, available in some apps, can also activate features on the phone.

Embedded features allow family and friends to take part and upload contacts, pictures, videos and audio files – and even control the phone remotely.

These and more features are some of the reasons Minnesota resident Ed Winkler bought a Ray. He gave it to his elderly mother, who tends to “lose” the things she cannot see.

“Ray is so simple to use that after a very short time, I managed to train my mother to use it and feel comfortable with it,” Winkler tells From The Grapevine. “Funny enough, the most used feature of it is the remote beeping that enables her to locate the phone.”

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