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Open Access Social Interaction Without Vision: An Assessment of Assistive Technology for the Visually Impaired

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Social interaction is full of nonverbal information, including facial expressions, eye contact, and bodily gestures. This can create challenges for the visually impaired, who are unable to access those cues for socially acceptable interactions, and perhaps even lead to social isolation and discrimination. It is crucial to consider the user's requirements in terms of functionality, usability, and aesthetic characteristics. Here we establish a set of criteria that should be satisfied when developing an assistive device to support social interactions for the blind and visually impaired. As an example application of these criteria, here we review a recently developed prototype of the Multimodal Assistive System. We then note how other prominent devices fare against the criteria, including two devices designed specifically for social interaction, the Social Interaction Assistant and the Haptic Face Display, and two general purpose sensory substitution devices, The vOICe and the BrainPort. This analysis provides important design recommendations for all such technology developments that aim to support social interactions. We then extend the analysis to demonstrate how such criteria can also be used to assess whether assistive technology can overcome the challenges blind individuals face in social interaction.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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  • Technology and Innovation, edited and published by the National Academy of Inventors, is a forum for presenting information encompassing the entire field of applied sciences, with a focus on transformative technology and academic innovation. Regular features of T&I include commentaries contributed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and in-depth profiles of Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors in every issue.

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