Approximately 800.000 people in Turkey suffer from some form of visual disability. For this group, computer science and the heyday of mobile device applications help to break down certain barriers in terms of access to information. My Dream Partner is a support tool whose autonomy is growing daily thanks to the provision of technical information. The system works with voice recognition accessed from a telephone line, an application for smart phones or the project´s web page. From these synchronized platforms users can gain access at any time to the information that they need.
Th enterprising young woman Duygu Kayaman is the mastermind behind My Dream Partner. From her own experience as a blind person, Kayaman identified the most common problems encountered while using this type of tool. On the one hand, people with visual disabilities over certain age are unfamiliar with current mobile devices. And on the other hand these devices have not been adapted in line with technological evolution in order to reap the benefits of smartphone applications, the advances in downloading speeds or the new web-based functionalities.
My Dream Partner´s applications are available free of charge, granting easy access to newspapers, books or courses. They have over 5,000 audiobooks, magazines like Harvard Business Review Turkey and 180 training programs in science, economics, mathematics, art and history. Services are also accessible through My Dream Partner´s website. Once registered on the site, users can listen to the information they need, check the weather forecast for any city, find the nearest pharmacy and check the results of their football teams. Kayaman explains that “the website is being redesigned for use with voice control technology so that users interact with content and communicate with each other”.
Kayaman works for Microsoft Turkey where she had her first experience helping blind people: a project to develop books in braille. She has also promoted a program for people with visual disabilities who are members of the organization for the promotion of leadership Young Guru Academy (YGA). Kayaman began working for the My Dream Partner project in 2011 with the support and financing of YGA´s telecommunications company Turkcell. In 2012, she finished the design phase of a system of interactive voice response (IVR) which is already in use at My Dream Partner.
The service is aimed at people with visual disabilities who use smartphones but also targets people who do not have access to the Internet. One can use this service by calling the IVR system, which answers using a series of pre-recorded audio messages and interacts with the caller through programmed audio responses. In the case of smart phones users, they can download applications for Android and IOS platforms that were launched in June and August of 2013 respectively.
Both the smartphone applications and the IVR system operate only in Turkish. The greatest technical achievements made so far by the project are focused on the voice interface. It has been possible to improve voice recognition; the transcription of any voice registry to text and vice versa the conversion of text to voice. Kayaman asserts that when she planned this project she dreamed of “reaching every blind person in Turkey".