The App That Brings Audio Books To Visually Impaired Children In China

Zhang Xin Tian

Beijing Baoyi started with an app that allowed the blind to use a smartphone. Now they're serving visually impaired children with an audio book app that kids and parents love.

Cao Jun Beijing Baoyi Asia For GoodCharismatic and composed, Cao Jun is both a visionary leader and an excellent storyteller. With the belief to empower the blind in the digital age, the sightless social entrepreneur himself established his social enterprise Baoyi Interactive in Beijing 8 years ago. The last time Asia For Good spoke to Cao Jun, he'd developed an app for the visually challenged to use smartphones and computers. So far, Baoyi has 200,000 users and counting. We interviewed Cao last year, when Baoyi received DBS Foundation Grant. But since then they’ve gone from strength to strength. Mr Cao tells us about the latest innovations Baoyi has to offer.

Q: Tell us about the educational app. 

We want to bridge the gap for blind children through technology. So we developed this education app, Mangtong Bandu, it literally means, “accompany and read with blind children”. It has more than 5000 hours of audio books for them. The app’s books covers a wide range of subjects from art and science, but also movies and folk songs. It gives kids access to an ocean of knowledge.

Q: Interesting! How does it help the visually impaired? 

Our team at Beijing Baoyi is mostly visually challenged people. So we pay special attention to the user experience. The whole interface is simple and straightforward. With a gesture detection system and audio guidance, interacting with the app is made easy. We invented 16 gestures for the blind to interact with their phones. So according to the direction your finger swipes, the app will perform different tasks accordingly.

Q: What's the feedback from users so far?

It was officially released in July and is on Android Market and Baidu Search.  We did a pre-launch on June 1st, (Children’s Day in China) among a small group and the responses were overwhelming, we got over 3000 downloads in a couple of days! Parents tell us that they like the app a lot. They felt that finding audio books was such a challenge for the visually impaired. Now, with this app, they can find almost any educational material a child wants. There is one little boy I’ll tell you about. He’s in primary one. After downloading the app, he listens to it every single day. His favourite is Anderson’s Fairy Tale, he loves it so much.  

Q: Apart from the audio book app, any other ongoing projects?

Our current project is an indoor navigation system for the blind in the barrier-free access facility building in China. For us the visually challenged, we find it extremely difficult to find our way around indoors, like office buildings or shopping malls.

We build a navigation system for the blind through sound emitters and earphones. So in a building, we put emitters at different critical spots, such as the entry to an elevator. When a visually impaired person gets closer to an emitter, his audio guide will receive signal and inform him. It is like a seeing-eye dog really but a digital one of course!

Q: What else can we expect from Baoyi in the near future?

First of all, we will continue to innovate to upgrade our products. In 3 years, we want to reach a total of one million users, and build the biggest visually challenged community in China. Subsequently, we are able to develop more blind-specific products and services for the community. Currently, we are trying to apply latest technologies to improve the mobility of the blind. For example, we are developing wearable equipment for the blind to navigate outdoor and use public transportation.

We are also working with different companies, adding blind-friendly features to their products.

We are collaborating with the China Central Television for a movie “You Are My Eyes”. The movie shares the real life stories and entrepreneurial journeys of the visually challenged. We hope that through media, more people will know about social enterprise.

This is our ultimate goal - stepping out of the community of the visually challenged, and to work with people from all walks of life. Together, we can make the life of the visually challenged better.   

 Want to know more about Baoyi Interactive? Visit their official website (Chinese only)


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