The Bizviznet interview series is meant to focus on people that are making a positive difference in the lives of those around them and the blind community in general and to serve as inspiration to those wanting to do the same.
If you provide services or products aimed at blind and vision impaired people and would like to fill in our interview questionnaire, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Shalin Shaw is a Grade 11 student at Tesoro High School.
In our second interview he shares with us more about how he developed Voice, an iPhone app for people who are blind or have dyslexia.
Name: Shalin Shah
Where are you from?
My family were immigrants from India, but I was born in Socorro, New Mexico.
School you attend and grade:
Tesoro High School. I’m a junior (11th grade)
Could you tell us more about the app you have developed?
Voice is an app that lets the user take a picture of anything that has words on it, and reads it aloud.
People with visual impairment or dyslexia can easily snap a photo of anything and have it read in a matter of seconds. Voice can speak just about any text, whether it is a menu at a restaurant, a medicine label, an expiration date on a milk carton, or even an information board at a museum. To aid in taking the photo, Voice automatically detects the document and says if all four corners of the document are visible. It reads the words by column such as in a newspaper. Additionally, Voice can read multiple pages, one after another, like a book. It is also available in over 30 different languages.
Voice also has many features that help the blind achieve maximum accuracy when using the app. Voice corrects any skew or angle that the photo is taken in so that the photo becomes straight even if it was taken at an angle. It also cleans noise from the background and equalizes the brightness and contrast. It can also estimate the corners of the document in order to take a picture by itself.
Since there is limited content available in braille and audio, blind people have difficulties reading important everyday items such as medicine labels that convey dosage information and so on.
Furthermore, out of the 6.1 million blind people in America, 4 million are unemployed according to The National Federation of the Blind. Apart from being blind, these people face massive unemployment.
This project has engineered a solution to these problems because it’s completely free (compared to the expensive and non-portable solutions in the market) and allows blind people to portably read everyday items through quickly taken photos in a matter of seconds.
What would be the most important challenges you have faced while working on this app?
For the past 13 months, I have been continuously developing and spreading Voice. Since I am not blind, making Voice intuitive for blind users was difficult. But for months, I spent long hours every week learning from different blind communities to fully understand how they use technology. Every time I approached these communities, I changed Voice a little, and gave it to them to use. Then each week, I took their ideas and made more improvements. For example, blind people had difficulties taking pictures from their phone because they could not see. So I added the feature where Voice looks to see if there is a document, and then makes a decision and takes a picture automatically. After countless iterations of Voice, blind people were finally able to use it intuitively. And still, I try to add new features that make the app even easier to use. To add these features, it was not only a challenge to make it user-friendly for blind people, but I also had to learn challenging computer science concepts. I learned computer vision, a sub-field in the field of computer science, to build some of the features.
Have you developed any other apps?
Yes. I started by building games for the iPhone. Two of my games are in the App Store currently. You can find them by searching for my name, Shalin Shah, in the App Store. I have also made other apps as well, but most of them are unreleased.
Do you have tips or suggestions for others who would like to develop apps for those with special needs or apps in general?
It may be hard to build apps for people with special needs, because it’s hard to test the app the way you would test it. But you can always improve the app. And despite those challenges, It’s always a fulfilling feeling when people who need these apps the most are able to benefit from your creation. All the time and energy spent working on the app becomes worth it.
What are some of your plans for the future?
I want to attend a university to study Computer Science. I also hope to continue making apps and writing code that helps people.
What have you learnt while developing Voice?
I am glad I built this app because it not only has helped people, but has also taught me areas of computer science that I maybe would never have explored, and so much about the blind community. Blind people face so many difficulties in their everyday life that I would never have known had I not met and talked with them.
What would be your favorite author, color and food?
My favorite author is George Orwell, because I have always enjoyed his satirical and dystopian novels that paralleled the Soviet Russia of the 20th century.
My favorite color is Cyan.
I particularly enjoy eating Chinese food.
For more information on the Voice app, visit