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Nathalie Gingras-Royer, UdeM master’s graduate in vision science, and VMWare
Technological innovations do not always address the obstacles and needs experienced by people with visual impairment when it comes to everyday tasks
As part of an internship with VMWare, Gingras-Royer’s research is contributing to the development of a new mobile app aiming to solve some of these challenges
By focusing specifically on mobile apps that interpret visual information using the camera function, Gingras-Royer’s work has the potential to make these apps more accessible for end users
Nathalie Gingras-Royer is using mobile apps and her lived experience to develop solutions to make daily life easier for people with visual impairment
Nathalie Gingras-Royer, a master’s graduate in vision sciences from Université de Montréal, is working on the development of an inclusive technology that will address the needs of people with visual impairment. As part of her master’s, she took part in the Mitacs Accelerate program to carry out an internship with VMWare, a company that provides virtualisation and cloud computing software and services.
With the goal of developing a universally accessible technology, the first step was to conduct an audit of the mobile apps already available on the market for people with visual impairment. Gingras-Royer evaluated the accessibility and effectiveness of these apps and identified unmet needs.
“It was about doing research into the literature as well as into what is actually happening in everyday physical environments, in order to then identify unmet needs and persistent barriers missed by current technology,” Gingras-Royer explains.
Her research is mainly focused on mobile apps that are available on smartphones, as they are widely used by all, including by people with visual impairment.
Having created a non-exhaustive list of the most popular mobile apps, Gingras-Royer developed seven different everyday scenarios, including – among others – going to get a coffee, going to a medical appointment, going out for drinks, going to a conference, and shopping in a big box store. It was this last scenario that ended up being taken forward, as it contains several different barriers at once.
“In this one scenario, there are multiple tasks that can cause difficulties. For example, finding the entrance to the store, getting a cart, pushing the cart in the aisles, identifying the products you want to get, finding the checkout, paying, etc.” Gingras-Royer says. “These are the steps everyone takes, but when you have a visual impairment, each step can present a series of challenges.”
Gingras-Royer is drawing from her own experience to tackle this research. For eight years now, she has lived with a visual impairment that has led her to make a complete pivot.
“It was while I was doing my degree in anthropology that I learned the master’s in vision science existed”, she explains. “And I really think it was the perfect program for me, as I wanted to commit myself more to the field of visual impairment rehabilitation.”
Gingras-Royer also emphasized that the difficulties faced by people living with visual impairment can vary from one individual to another according to their level of vision.
“Don’t forget that with visual impairment, there’s a wide spectrum of visual diagnoses between very good vision and total blindness,” she says.
The project Gingras-Royer is part of could have significant implications not only for people with visual impairment, allowing them to navigate their daily physical environment more easily, but also, more broadly, for society at large, by promoting inclusivity and accessibility for all.
Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country.
Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: BD@mitacs.ca.