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Bluetooth: Can It Help Disabled People?

Dr. John Gill
October 2000

To develop Bluetooth applications for the benefit of disabled people will require collaboration between those familiar with the technology and those familiar with the needs of disabled people.

Some possible applications are:
1. Public access terminals
2. Domestic equipment
3. Navigation and orientation systems
4. Hearings aids
5. Audio description
6. Mobile telephones with remote control facility
7. Convergence and diversity

1. Public Access Terminals
There are an increasing number of self-service terminals such as cash dispensers (ATMs) and ticket selling machines for public transport. These terminals give a number of problems for disabled users which could be alleviated using Bluetooth:
(a) A wheelchair user may not be able to reach the buttons on the terminal. A hand-held terminal (such as a PDA or a mobile phone) could be connected to the terminal via Bluetooth.
(b) A blind person may have difficulty in locating the terminal; a Bluetooth signal to the terminal could trigger an audible location signal from the terminal.
(c) A blind person might want speech output of the information on the terminal's screen; this could be transmitted via Bluetooth to a mobile phone handset.

2. Domestic Equipment
The user interfaces on many domestic devices (from washing machines to mobile phones) are difficult to use by people with visual, hearing, physical or cognitive impairments. So the ability to have an alternative user interface, connected via Bluetooth, could make all the difference to their ability to use the equipment.

3. Navigation and Orientation Systems
Visually impaired people often have difficulty in determining whether it is safe to cross the road at traffic lights or the destination of a bus. If the traffic lights and buses had Bluetooth transmitters, the blind person could receive an audible message in a hand-held device such as a mobile phone handset. Such a system could be extended to giving road names at road junctions. It could also be used in indoor environments such as shopping centres or railway stations.

4. Hearing Aids
Hearing aid users have particular problems in noisy environments, and a radio-based system would permit the connection of public address systems to their hearing aids; this would be useful in public places such as railway stations, theatres and at sports events. Also many older hearing aid users have poor manual dexterity and so have difficulty with the fiddly controls on the hearing aid. One possibility would be for a remote device, such as a mobile phone handset, to be used to alter the settings on the hearing aid.

5. Audio Description
Visually impaired people often have difficulties in following the plot on television or in the cinema. One solution is to insert an audio description in the gaps in the dialogue. However such a commentary can be annoying to other people, so it is desirable that only the visually impaired person hears the audio description. One possibility would be to use Bluetooth to transmit to a headset worn by the visually impaired person.

6. Mobile Telephones with Remote Control Facility
Mobile telephones can already include short messaging, location functions, text telephone facilities and speech control. The next generation mobiles will include Internet compatability and picture transmission modes. Combined with Bluetooth the same mobile could be used for remote control of public terminals and domestic appliances. The devices to control and their protocols would be automatically identified thanks to Bluetooth and services built on top of Bluetooth. When the distress button is pressed, the mobile could send an alarm via the mobile net or via the local home bus. In both cases the location information is available, and communication with the service centre is opened automatically.

7. Convergence and Diversity
Although the mobile telephone could be used as a remote control or the other way round, it does not mean that we will not find them as separate devices. The remote control at home could be bigger, have bigger buttons and a better display and still offer the same facilities as the mobile telephone with its Bluetooth module.


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