Books are an integral part of our lives! Doesn’t matter if we are voracious or occasional readers – we always appreciate the entertainment and knowledge books impart. However, in case of blind people or sighted people losing their partial or full vision, physical books can seldom be an option. That’s where audiobooks come into the picture, but they come with their own challenges.
This post has been written by Marcin Simonides who has created a very simple, minimalist interface for playing audiobooks for blind and/or elderly people.
When eyesight deteriorates, either due to illness or advanced age, many people turn to audiobooks as an alternative to reading. With today’s technology there is an abundance of services and devices one can use.
For many seniors, however, mastering the technology can be an additional obstacle. Most audio players are designed either to be small, which requires that buttons are tiny and close together, or big with touch screens which is susceptible to accidental touch. Either way it is easy to inadvertently press the wrong button, especially if fingers are no longer as flexible and precise as they used to be. Add to this features like shuffle or repeat that sometimes get enabled by mistake and a simple task of playing your favourite book feels like entering a minefield.
I have not felt this myself (yet). But I have observed my grandmother struggle with a number of audio players.
Over the past few years we have tested many devices. The best one was a second-hand CD player with MP3 support. Sadly, it did not store the last played position and playback started from the beginning after it has been turned off. And it still had too many buttons.
An ideal audiobook player for my grandmother would have as little features as necessary, namely play and pause, and it would be easy to operate with imprecise gestures. How hard can it be? 🙂 I’ve decided to try.
I’m not good at building stuff but I’m a software developer so I have decided to take an off-the-shelf device, an Android tablet, and achieve my goal with a custom app.
I came up with something like this:
The app plays audio files but also does three things that are geared towards visually imparied and elderly:
– it reads the book titles when the screen is enabled and when browsing,
– it has large START and STOP buttons in contrast colors,
– stops playback when placed with the screen downward on a level surface.
And, last but not least, the app can be installed in such a way that the user cannot leave it. This hides all the complexity of the underlying system and other applications – the device serves one purpose and one purpose only.
For the time being it is still an experiment although my grandmother is already using it.
The application is available for download on my website (it will also be available in Google Play within a few weeks) so you can test it yourself and give me your feedback.
Obviously I’m not the first one to recognize the problem. During my research I have found two other project with similar goals but different solutions. Both are custom made devices based on the Raspberry PI platform.