Over the past year, technology has played a critical role in assisting us in the performance of everyday tasks from working to learning and communicating with family and friends. But for people living with additional needs, assistive technology – from mobility aids and voice recognition programs to adaptive switches and countless other devices – can greatly contribute to a more inclusive society.
It is with this in mind that we are excited to launch the Microsoft Soundscape app in Ireland today.
Created by our colleagues Amos Miller and Jarnail Chudge, working within the Enable group at Microsoft Research, Soundscape uses innovative audio-based technology to enable people to build a richer awareness of their surroundings, thus becoming more confident and independent when moving around their environment.
Unlike step-by-step navigation apps, Soundscape uses 3D audio cues that help to build a mental map of the surrounding area. We have found that people use Soundscape in a number of different and creative ways. Recently, we came across an example of a group of 11-year-old students using Soundscape to create a heritage trail of historical sites in their town. With Soundscape, they created a 3D spatial audio experience from one landmark to another and as the trail unfolded more and more of the town’s history was revealed to the user.
In another example, Microsoft has been collaborating with the NCBI (National Council for the Blind in Ireland) to test the Soundscape app locally. Mobility specialists at NCBI have been working directly with those availing of their services to help them use the app and provide feedback on its impact on their daily lives.
One such person is Michael Leahy, a 38-year-old native of Dublin who suddenly lost his sight just 18 months ago. Listening to the impact that the Soundscape app has had on Michael’s life is a deeply moving experience and a testament to the power of assistive technology.
In his own words, Soundscape has allowed Michael to start going out independently again, whether that’s to meet friends or go to work. Being mobile has given Michael the confidence to find new employment. The “Marker” feature of the app allows Michael to log obstacles in his path and the “Audio Beacon” feature allows him to navigate confidently towards a destination, whether that’s the park, a restaurant, or his place of work.
These are abilities and liberties that a fully sighted person can often take for granted.
Michael’s experience with the Soundscape app encapsulates what we strive for at Microsoft. Along with empowering people across all spectrums of society to achieve more, we believe that technology can play a vital role in creating a more inclusive world.
Michael’s story is a powerful example of what can be achieved when we harness the power of accessible technology designed to help everyone in our community to reach their full potential. By making the Soundscape app available for free, we want to remove any potential barriers to allowing people across Ireland to navigate and connect more fully with the world around them.
Learn more about Michael’s journey and his experience with using the Microsoft Soundscape app here.