It should come as no surprise that technology has greatly enhanced my life as a blind person. Everything from screen reading technology to OCR apps to visual interpreting services has played a role in making my life more enjoyable and more equitable, both personally and professionally. I’ve been fairly reluctant to jump on the most recent tech out there, largely because there’s so much of it; it seems that not a week goes by without some new tech that’s designed for blind people – from shoes to backpacks to smart canes – much of which either never makes it to market or is prohibitively expensive.
I’d heard about the OrCam MyEye over the past little while, and I have always been interested in trying it out. Wearable technology that reads stuff? I could use that! Why not? I was given an opportunity to test one out recently, and I chose to take it for what it was worth.
What is OrCam MyEye?
In short, OrCam MyEye is a talking camera. It attaches to a pair of sunglasses with magnets, and uses hand gestures, voice commands, or finger controls to perform its functions. It can automatically detect text in your surroundings, read newspapers or documents, describe a scene, and even recognize pre-programmed faces.
When I first was interested in OrCam, I went to their web site, which offered financing plans for up to twelve months for Canadians. I added the device to my cart, entered my contact information for financing information, and was given the irresistible opportunity to pay nearly $2700, with the balance split over two monthly payments of $900 per month. Hardly twelve convenient and reasonable monthly payments! I exited the web site and went on about my night.
The next day, I received a phone call from OrCam. I told the caller that I wasn’t interested in the device, especially given the lack of reasonable financing options available in addition to the up-front payment. I was asked what my vision was like, if I had trouble recognizing faces, if I could use their smart-read features, and on and on. I repeated myself, that I was not interested at this time, and would be ending the call.
I then got an email. It was clear it was a form letter, because it stated something about it being a pleasure to speak with me and the hope that my questions were answered satisfactorily. I replied, asking OrCam to not contact me again.
I was able to borrow the OrCam for two weeks from a Canadian assistive technology company. I received the device in a box, with a whole bunch of extra little things that I still can’t identify. The device charged, I was ready to try it out.
A Day at the Mall
Before taking the OrCam for a true test of its paces, I tried it out on some documents. There’s a lot of head angling and paper angling and lighting considerations that I hadn’t considered, but I soon got the hang of using the OrCam to tell what random pieces of paper were scattered across my table. I wouldn’t want to use it for professional documents, but I could get the job done.
Once I figured out the gestures, I was ready to hit the road. The first thing I tried to do was to read the bus stop sign to get downtown. After some angling and fiddling, I was able to read what buses stopped at my local stop, and where they concluded. While waiting for the bus, I used the automatic text finding feature and located a stop sign about a hundred feet away. The trip to the mall was less eventful. I was unable to read the route numbers on the bus itself (glare? signage? angles?), but I was able to read several signs and messages on the LRT. I was mildly impressed!
The mall was an exercise in complicated frustration. We started at the food court, where I was able to read parts of some vendors’ menu boards, but actually had no idea what restaurant would be serving me my pizza or tacos or sandwich. I couldn’t get the right angles; I was either so close that I was cutting off parts of the menus, or I’d be moving backwards into the flow of foot traffic. Deciding on a lunch spot was simpler without the OrCam – I remembered where the taco spot was, and tacos sounded good, it didn’t matter where they came from, I was just hungry.
Lunch consumed, I tried the mall as a whole. I used the text-find feature, reading basically anything and everything the camera could pick up. I found some stores only by the web sites listed on their signs, and knew some others had sales. But again, the angles were all wrong; I was either too close to get a whole sign, or I’d have to step back into the flow of foot traffic to get any more meaningful information. I was, however, able to catch the mall hours from several different angles.
The Bottom Line
I wanted to love the OrCam. I wanted it to be as helpful for me as their marketing makes it look. But if my initial introduction to their sales tactics didn’t put me off it, my cumbersome experience in the mall cemented it for me. I have other tools at my disposal – like Aira, Be my Eyes, and Lookout – and all of them are considerably more affordable and less cumbersome than the OrCam proved itself to be for me. I hope it can continue to grow and help more people, but this blind user is giving it a hard pass.