The latest innovation from Google is Google Latitude, which pinpoints the location of your friends and family on a map. This application excites me to no end because of its possibilities for aiding the disabled, like the deaf and hard of hearing. I think back to the early ‘00s, before I had my cochlear implant and relied on a hearing-aid. I was unable to hear on the telephone and SMS (text messaging) was available only if you and your friends used the same service provider. A typical Friday night: “We’re at McFadden’s!” my friends would scream into the phone. “The corner of 49th and Second avenues!” In the midst of noisy Manhattan, I can’t decipher what they’re saying and I don’t know where to direct the cab driver. I give up and go home. Beyond drinking adventures, the deaf and hearing-impaired can, conceivably, use Google Latitude if they lose their group at an amusement park or concert where it can be hard to hear on the phone. Yes, SMS is ubiquitous these days, but what if your friends don’t know the address, or can’t pinpoint their location? Plus, GPS and WiFi is real-time, more integrated, more detailed and free to use. For the blind, Google Latitude also has immeasureable application. When I was at SATH last month, Carlos Garcia of Human Network Labs showed me a prototype of a “situational awareness” device that would help blind parents keep tabs on their children. The device uses data-tracking technology, not GPS, and will require the parent and child to wear a communications device about the size of an iPod to speak the remote locations of a child, his or her distance from the parent, and explain how to reach the the child at this location. Using Google Latitude with speech capability instead, a person who is blind can achieve the same results if both they and their children are carrying mobile devices — and what kid isn’t these days? Google Latitude will work on most color Blackberries, most Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, most Symbian S60 devices, and phones powered by Google’s Android mobile software, such as the T-Mobile G1. It will soon be calibrated to work on the iPhone and iPod Touch, too. (The iPod Touch has built-in speech with VoiceOver.) This is a seriously killer app with life-enhancing benefits for the blind and deaf.
Google’s Killer App for the Disabled
February 1 2009 | by Suzanne Robitaille