ICT-based assistive technology as the eyes of the blind: Technological empowerment and social inclusion of the visually impaired in a central city of China


In China, the world’s most populous developing country, over 17 million people have been reported as blind or visually impaired (Shan, 2018). The visually impaired and blind people are greatly concerned with “technologies, devices, services, systems, and software” that can assist their daily functioning, particularly their performance of activities (Bhowmick & Hazarika, 2017, p. 2). Assistive technology for the visually impaired and the blind has been an inter-disciplinary research field including education, ICTs, sociology, psychology, communication, etc., since the mid-1990s. Bhowmick & Hazarika (2017) stated that it was a research field gaining increasing prominence and socially impacting the lives of individuals and the elderly in ways not previously noticed. To examine such social impact on individuals’ life activities, Hersh & Johnson (2010) employed a Comprehensive Assistive Technology (CAT) model, providing a systematic vocabulary and interpretation of describing all aspects of AT applications.

Endorsing a theoretical framework of Social Role of Assistive Technology, the research conducted in-depth interviews with 25 visually impaired persons who were working in 6 Massage parlors respectively in a central capital city of China, aiming to explore whether the use of ICT-based assistive technology can improve self-esteem of the visually impaired and their social inclusion in communities, specifically: 

Does the use of ICT-based assistive technology help enhance self-esteem of the visually impaired as a human via improving their activity performance in mobility, communications and access to information, cognition, daily living, and recreation?

We found through trial test of 16 interviewees that, with the help of assistive technologies like screen-reading software, internet services such as online shopping, food-delivery, and online novel, would greatly improve the quality and convenience of daily living, and the efficiency as well, such as skill-learning and worktiming. This can enhance their self-esteem as a human being and self-identity as an efficient worker. Moreover, such technological empowerment enlarges their range of mobility, breadth of vision, and depth of self-awareness. 

However, there are also some drawbacks and limitations:

First, the use of ICT assistive technologies might increase the possibility of encountering telecommunication and online frauds, particularly online gambling. Some blind people have been recruited because there is a lot of fraud information targeted at the disabled groups on the Internet.

Second, people with worse vision are more likely to choose charging software or technologies, yet they usually came from rural area and could not afford to buy those costly technologies.

Third, there are limitations with the technologies themselves. Services from ICT assistive technologies are restricted by product design and economic factors, yet cannot completely be replaced by the assistance of human beings.


Bhowmick, A., & Hazarika, S. M. (2017). An insight into assistive technology for the visually impaired and blind people: state-of-the-art and future trends. Journal on Multimodal User Interfaces, 11(2), 149–172.

Hersh, M., & Johnson, M. A. (Eds.). (2010). Assistive technology for visually impaired and blind people. Springer Science & Business Media, 26–33.

Shan, Yingwen. (2018, March 22). Besides massage, the visually impaired can manage more. Wenhui Daily, 12.