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Softeq Hearing and Visual Impairment Assistance Device

  • Date: 2009/07/18 (Rev. 2015/12/19)
  • Disabled World - Disabled World
  • Synopsis : Hand held device gives people with visual or hearing impairments the same experience as others.

Main Document

Softeq, a little-known Houston company that has usually had a focus on hardware such as MP3 players, flash drives and printers, has created a hand-held device that gives people with visual or hearing impairments the same experience as others.

Softeq, a little-known Houston company that has usually had a focus on hardware such as MP3 players, flash drives and printers, has created a hand-held device that gives people with visual or hearing impairments the same experience as others. The article I read stated that, 'A deaf fan can now tune in as NFL quarterback Tom Brady calls a play in the New England Patriots' football hall of fame. A blind guest can visualize London in the Peter Pan Flight ride at Disney World.' Blind and hearing-impaired visitors at the World of Coca-Cola museum can now get more out of a tour of company history.'

Apparently all three of these venues are using this hand-held device to give persons with visual or hearing impairments equivalent experiences. Ronald Milliman, spokesman for the American Council of the Blind states, "It's a really innovative device. The people we know who have used it are very excited about it." The device offers captioning for persons who are deaf, as well as audio for visually-impaired persons. They are used at Disney World, a timber company, and museums.

Softeq Assistive Device ImageThe device was tested at Disney first, where infrared sensors pick up signals which are sent from transmitters that are placed around the park. These signals trigger either audio descriptions or captions. The device first vibrates for persons who are deaf, in order to inform them that captions are about to commence. Rick Morin, who is blind, used it while on a biennial trip to Disney. He noticed a hidden staircase and directed his wife - who can see, thanks to an audio description from the device, to the ghostly footprints on the stairs in the haunted house they visited. Rick says, "We've been going to Disney since 1977, and she had never seen it. They tell you what they think you want to hear. But here you get it in real time and unfiltered."

David Dikter, Executive Director of Assistive Technology Industry Association stated, "There's an enormous market. "Many of technologies have come from a need to access all the other technology such as making smart phones and hand-helds accessible to people with disabilities."

For Softeq itself, this is a step into a growing assisted technology industry, one that experts say is fueled by venues that are trying to comply with ADA standards, longer life-spans, large numbers of returning Veterans, and constantly changing technologies. Softeq is keeping up; the company has earned nearly $3.5 million in sales revenue since 2005. Five years ago the company created another division called, 'Durateq,' to create hand-held mobile devices and the software to run them.

When Softeq first created the assistive device it looked similar to a PDA, and was encased in thick rubber. They created it in collaboration with Disney, but have since licensed it with a vision of marketing it to theme parks and museums. Trey Litel, Vice President and General Manager of Durateq states, "I like to say it was battle-tested at Disney." Now the company can customize the assistive device by installing Windows-based and touchscreen applications. They can add a credit card reader, bar code scanner, speaker, GPS, or radio-frequency identification reader.

The article states: "The speaker could be used with a speech generation software to help those with speech disabilities talk. And the bar code scanner could be used for everything from price checks to keeping track of inventory. The credit card reader would make it easy for waiters to take orders and print receipts at a diner's table or sell beer to fans at their seats at a football stadium." The device is still expensive at this point, costing between $800 and $1,200.


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