You might think we’re crazy if we ask you to make a call, read WhatsApp messages, watch YouTube videos or even read this article with your eyes closed. But what if we tell you it’s possible?
We recently stumbled up a mobile app, Louie Voice Control (Louie, for short) that could help visually-impaired people make phone calls, send WhatsApp messages, watch YouTube videos and even book an Uber ride easily. When we say visually-impaired people, we’re talking about those with decreased visual disabilities that can’t be fixed with a pair of glasses (read: they’re not necessarily blind).
Anyways, Louie, which was named after the inventor of braille, Louis Braille, functions by using voice commands. Think of it like talking to a friend who guides you in using a phone.
The founder, Pramit Bhagarva, a visually-impaired Computer Engineer who hails from India, got in touch with us to share about his app but we thought it’s an opportunity for us to try Louie under his guidance.
Just for the record, we don’t get paid to use this app, ok? So, here’s what we discovered.
1. A screen reader is needed to set Louie up
Just like other applications, you would first need to install and set Louie up. However, halfway through setting Louie, we realised that we were actually reading and following the instructions as usual.
Then, it struck us – isn’t Louie supposed to assist us and visually impaired people by using voice commands?? How are the blind people gonna set Louie up without the voice assistant???
So, we contacted Pramit to ask about this. He told us that there is nothing wrong with the app and it is accessible for the visually-impaired community.
“Most of our users are visually impaired and it has been our experience that they are able to do the setup on their own as it is completely accessible using a screen reader.” – Pramit to CILISOS.
A screen reader or, in some phones, it is known as the Google TalkBack function, is a feature built-in to the phone to assist visually impaired people to navigate through the phone. It basically turns text and images into speeches or brailles.
Spoiler alert: using a screen reader can be pretty challenging for first-timers like us. But we’re not the only ones who feel this way.
Chris Ashton, a developer, also commented that trying to figure out how to use a screen reader in a day can be pretty challenging. But that’s a story for another day.
After setting up Louie, everything else afterward seems pretty easy.
2. Louie was pretty helpful at first…
One of the first things we tried was using YouTube and WhatsApp. We find it easy to navigate through both apps just by using voice commands. You just have to listen and follow the instructions besides saying your commands after the beep (or vibrate).
Watch how Louie helped us watched YouTube videos.
Aside from watching YouTube videos, we also tried going to a specific YouTube channel and like a video. And if you noticed from the video above, the best part of watching YouTube with Louie is that you get to automatically skip the ads (you don’t even have to ask Louie to skip it)!!
After watching YouTube videos, we get Louie to help us to WhatsApp. Here’s what we like about sending messages with Louie – we don’t even need to type our messages out. We could simply read it to Louie and send it.
However, we soon bumped into a slightly annoying technical issue.
3. You need to pronounce your words accurately
Next, we got Louie to assist us in making a phone call to a contact named Rumah. However, Louie misunderstood it as rumour.
This also happened when we created a new contact with Louie’s help. We named the contact Sofi but it had some trouble trying to get that the first time around.
Assuming you watched the video, you would also notice that you need to speak quickly or else Louie won’t get what you’re saying.
While speech-to-text should function at a 99% accuracy rate (by right la, ok), it may run into trouble once in a blue moon. This may be one instance of it.
Another instance would be when Google’s text-to-speech had a glitch with its auto-punctuation. So, you’d be. Texting like. This (no, literally). However, Pramit assures us that Louie shouldn’t be getting into this kinda trouble. However, if you’re using it and ran into troubles like this, you can contact him at [email protected].
Aside from speaking to Louie, we also discovered that…
4. You can use two fingers and shake your phone to interact with Louie
But it’s really not what you think, ok?
Aside from voice commands, there are several ways to wake Louie up (read: launch the app). One is by pressing the ‘Start a Voice Session’ button on the app itself.
Another method is by shaking your phone or saying, “Hey Louie” from the app itself.
Besides that, you can also interrupt Louie while it speaks by tapping two fingers on the screen simultaneously. We learnt that you can use the same method to pause YouTube videos.
Aside from that, you can also tell Louie to ‘shut up’ (literally) or ‘stop’ if you want it to shut down. We discovered that you can also achieve the same result by clicking the power button.
5. Louie can open other apps like Grab but…
As we mentioned in the intro, Louie is only integrated with five apps – Contacts, Calls, WhatsApp, Uber and YouTube. But since we don’t have Uber in Malaysia, we decided to try it out on Grab. Here’s what happened.
If you watched the video, you’d notice that Louie can launch Grab but it will then shut itself down. So, if you’re using a screen reader, then you’d have to rely on that to use the app.
However, if you haven’t turned on your screen reader or it gets shut down while using Louie, here’s how you can turn it back on.
Pramit mentioned there are plans to integrate Louie with more apps like social media, food ordering apps, emails and web search.
There are other apps just like Louie
Let’s be real. Before Louie, there have been other Voice Assistant software like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. According to Pramit, Louie is slightly different than those voice assistants because it continuously talks to users.
“Voice assistants tend to be just too superficial, they will only do two or three things within an app and they have the habit of going silent all the time.” Pramit.
But if you’ve gone through all our points and thought it takes a lot of effort to use Louie, then you may wanna keep in mind that this app is meant for disabled people. Aside from visually-impaired people, Louie can be used for people with motor disabilities, elderly people and
loners those who prefer using hands-free (but please don’t use your phone while driving).
As of now, Louie is only available for Android users on Google Play Store but Pramit ensures it will be available for iPhone users by 2022.
It seems like technology is making everything much more accessible, especially for people with disabilities. Speaking of which, if you’re wondering why we’re not using the usual Malaysian slangs or spellings like ‘gais’ or the videos are slightly larger, that’s because we got Pramit to help us ensure that this article is accessible with a screen reader (it is, guys!). TLDR: gais sounds like gays when screen readers read the word out.
Outside of the tech world, there are also a lot of other daily products that can be used by the visually-impaired community like cutleries, low-vision pens and even kitchen tools. Having said that, it is kinda possible to perform daily activities including reading this article without having to literally look at them with your eyes.