Students for the Visually Impaired

Shopping at the supermarket and finding the product that suits our needs sounds relatively simple, but for some, checking the product ingredients, including allergens, is a real challenge * Two software engineering students became aware of the everyday problem facing the visually impaired in selecting products at the supermarket, and for their final project decided to develop an application that would do this for them

Many of us are sensitive to certain ingredients, and even if not, we have personal preferences when buying products. People who are visually impaired experience shopping as a challenge, especially when it comes to buying a product that may endanger their life, or is suitable in terms of taste or calories. Tomer Engel (25) and Nadine Cohen (27), software engineering students completing their undergraduate studies at the Be’er Sheva campus, learned of this problem and decided to do something to help those who must contend with this difficulty.

As part of their final project, under the guidance of Dr. Irina Rabayev, the students developed an application to help the visually impaired find their way in this situation. The application scans the product barcode and reads out loud the product ingredients, including allergens, Ministry of Health markings and more. If a certain product is not included in the application, any person can add it to the database, and thus help other users. This revolutionary idea caught the attention of the Gvanim organization that helps persons with a disability, and joint collaboration between them and the students will begin in the near future.

The two students noted that “The application eliminates dependence of persons with a disability on another person, and helps in providing a sense of independence and safety”. They went on to say that “This is a life-changing application that does not only shorten time spent shopping, but also makes it safer for the user”. When we asked the students about the idea behind the development their answer was moving: “During our undergraduate studies we took a course about persons with disabilities and this opened up a whole new world for us, with many needs that require technology to help carry out daily tasks. We sat together and thought what could make a routine task less challenging and immediately thought of the difficulty entailed in shopping when the print on the products is so small – and that’s where it hit us”.

Such an application sounds like a revolutionary idea, but then there was the question of what it requires in terms behind the scenes work? “There were many concerns”, recounts Tomer. “We knew what would be required in order to develop such an application, a lot of research, programming, different programming languages, and mainly extensive trial and error, but we didn’t give up. We knew that it would take time, but the vision of the final outcome did not let us abandon the idea”.

The students note that the current application format is only the beginning, and that their goal is to improve it even more. “In the future the application will be in different languages, so that any person in the State of Israel will be able to hear a translation into their mother tongue, and we may even go international. Persons with a visual disability are entitled to an equal shopping experience, and it is our mission to make this a reality for them”.