Challenges and frustrations I experience being totally blind, dealing with statuses of devices with LEDs

Because most devices are designed by sighted people, for other sighted people, lights are used to tell the person statuses like on/off etc. For those who can see, it’s super easy, quick and efficient. For those who are totally blind, it’s only frustrating at best.


The device most frustrating for blind users are the USB battery packs. They all have a button that when pressed show you how charged they are with a light ladder. (Several lights in a line, often used to show a status bar.)  Thankfully the blind community has a solution for this, though it adds about $50 to the price of a more common battery by popular brands like Anker.


There are 2 batteries 10000 and 20000 milliampere/hour (MAH) for $75 and $100 respectively, that add vibration and sound, so that blind people can know how charged (or not) the battery is. The battery will also indicate when something is plugged into it and is charging, or when the battery is plugged in and being charged itself. These are second generation models, and when the first gens came out a few years ago I thought, ye it’s cool, but too expensive, I can just deal with the inaccessible batteries I already have. As time went on, I kept tolerating them, , but finding it more annoying. Last year when the second generation models came out, I debated whether or not I should buy one, then finally decided to do it, and have been very happy with the convenience the 10000 MAH model has given me when running around in public. I still have a nice totally working 20000 MAH Anker battery, but am regularly reminded how much more convenient a more expensive but very accessible 20000 MAH battery would be when I need more power on the go, or even at home when not near an outlet; I’ll probably get one some time this year.


The battery situation has been solved, but there are many more still looking for a solution.

I often wear a light vest when I go for walks especially in the winter so that drivers and others can see me. I’d tried individual clip-on lights in the past, but they didn’t have rechargeable batteries, and I would often forget to turn them off when I got home. The  vest is rechargeable, so that’s a big improvement for me; knowing that it’s on is still a slight challenge, though it is very solvable.


if blind people ever have to call their internet service provider for tech support, the first thing they are asked is “What are the lights on the front of your cable modem doing?” There is a nice web page built in to many cable modems that you can find in your browser at that will tell you all you need to know about your connections, and how the modem is doing. Unfortunately, Spectrum has turned this feature off. I can’t think of any technical reason to do so, I consider this an accessibility issue.


I needed a new pair of gloves this winter, so I decided to get some heated ones. They’re thinner so more dexterous, but heat up, so they’re warmer than gloves that thin would normally be. They also tell you what they’re doing with a multi-colored LED The list goes on.


Microsoft has made an awesome app for iOS called Seeing AI. It can detect light, and identify colors, so it offers a way for blind people to take a big step forward in the world of LEDs. 


When in light detect mode, Seeing AI beeps. The higher pitched the beep is, the more intense or the brighter the light is. This can also be helpful in knowing if lights are on in a room, or if it’s cloudy or dark outside.


Light ladders place the individual LEDs so close together, that apps like Seeing AI with light detect modes can’t accurately tell you how many lights are on. Some blind people might argue that you could tell by how intense the light is by the pitch the app is beeping, but I don’t find that reliable enough.


I have found Seeing AI very useful with my light vest. I can tell if it’s on or off, if it’s constant or flashing. I could figure out that if i pressed and held the button for more than 2 seconds it shut off. I really liked that feature, some devices don’t do that. Often, one has to press the button through a cycle of options until the device finally turns off; grr. With Seeing AI, I can know that the LED is off.


Seeing AI can also tell you the color of LEDs if they are individual and not part of a cluster. It’s not always accurate, but can be somewhat reliable if the iPhone’s camera lens is firmly placed over the LED and isolated from everything else. I have found that if there is a lot of ambient light around the LED i’m trying to find, however, this process may not work as well.


Although not a panacea, apps that can detect light and/or colors like Seeing AI have brought blind users much closer to knowing what their lit up devices are doing than they were in the past. I haven’t found an easy, reliable way to pull my phone out of a pocket of off my belt with gloves on and use Seeing AI when walking outdoors in the winter. Getting out the phone is probably the easier of those challenges, maybe an iOS shortcut or two could help if my AirPods decide to behave nicely and understand everything I say with cold lips.


I also think a setting to combine the light detect and color identify modes in Seeing AI could be helpful. One could probably tell that the LED is off if Seeing AI reported black, but black doesn’t always mean that the light is off, my heated gloves are black, so i would like to have Seeing AI both say the color, and beep how much light there is at the time.


The panacea of course, would probably be an app for every LED lit device that would tell VoiceOver what is happening, this is not only not possible but not even practical. I would really love if devices beeped or vibrated when LEDs changed, I don’t think this would be as far fetched or impossible as it might seem, just not something companies would care to do. It can be done though, we already have two battery models that do it. If companies put sound and vibration in their products along with flashy LEDs, the price wouldn’t have to increase that much since it would be mass produced.


Just a little more to think about occasionally, when you as a sighted person take LED’s on your cool devices for granted. I’m hoping that sooner rather than later, although I’m not expecting a panacea, that there will be more solutions, more convenient, and more efficient.

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