BY COURTNEY ENLOW HALL
Necessity is the mother of invention, and Rasha Said is a mother whose invention was born out of necessity.
When her young son started to lose his vision, Said began to realize how important it was for him to remain independent. On a family trip to Disney World, she found herself attempting to inform him of what was nearby, but there were understandable gaps while she focused on other children or missed things because they were from her own perspective, rather than his.
“I felt bad that it was up to me to tell him what he was near,” she says. “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was something that could tell you what was around, some app he could use himself? And he told me, ‘Mom, that’s too good to be true.’”
After extensive research, it turned out he wasn’t wrong. At the time, there was no such device or system that allowed people with visual impairments to explore the world on their own and gather easily digestible information about their surroundings.
Within a few years, there would be, because Said created it herself.
Using Apple’s iBeacon technology, which features devices used in the retail market to alert shoppers of promotions and coupons, Said determined that the signals could be used for more than just sale notifications. She could use them for much, much more.
That’s how she came up with Aware. Through her company, Sensible Innovations, Said developed Aware in collaboration with the team at LRS Web Solutions. With a visual impairment-friendly display – think bright colors and large fonts – as well as Braille and audio-only functionality, Aware delivers accessible information about a person’s surroundings, which Said points out is not the case with even the most well-intentioned Braille signs. Aware can also be used successfully by people with dyslexia and anyone else who has difficulties navigating an unfamiliar environment.
The app was first piloted at Glenwood High School, where her son now attends school, then installed without charge in the Mary Bryant Home. The system was also installed at Chicago Lighthouse, an organization for blind, visually impaired, disabled and veteran communities. Said has appeared at and given demonstrations to national conferences and symposiums, appeared on Good Day Chicago and been interviewed by the American Foundation for the Blind’s magazine.
“There are signs everywhere – multiple ways for me to get information, plenty of options,” Said says. “But not for my son or anyone with a visual impairment. Their choices for getting information are limited. Aware gives them another option for living with independence.”
What’s next for Said and Sensible Innovations? She wants the entire world to talk.
“I want walls to talk, signs to talk,” she says, so that everyone is able to get the same information – with or without their eyes.
Photo By Terry Farmer