Voice-activated email system a saviour for blind Victoria man

It may seem as if there’s no end to the ways we can communicate with each other these days.

We’ve got telephones, email, Skype, text messages, voice-controlled smartphones, social media sites such as Facebook., Tumblr, Snapchat and Twitter and letters sent through Canada Post.

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Even so, some people are shut out of this plethora of options.

That’s what happened to Victoria’s Greg Koyl, 64, who lost most of his vision in August 2014 as a result of glaucoma. He turned off his computer and 600 emails piled up. These were messages he could not read or respond to.

But now he’s using a computer-free system to send and receive emails using only a telephone.

That’s thanks to Peter Young, general manager of Victoria’s Priority 1 Computer Service and Alan Perry of eGurus Technology Tutors.

The duo worked together to offer a service called Talk and Send, based on a Voice on the Go system. Young said he contacted the company, which refined an existing system to suit Koyl’s needs. Priority 1 is the reseller of the product in Victoria.

Koyl is its biggest fan.

“It has made a huge difference in my life,” Koyl said. It is “incredibly simple” to use.

Talk and Send has allowed Koyl, a former B.C. public servant with more than 100 contacts, to communicate with friends and relatives in a way “that really helps me feel like I’m part of society again.”

With just 10 per cent of vision remaining, Koyl can only pick out large shapes. He anticipates losing the rest of his sight.

This is not the only technology for those with restricted vision. Young, Perry and Koyl believe this system doesn’t only assist those with reading and typing challenges. It could suit those with arthritis.

It’s also inexpensive, costing just $8.99 per month, and a contract is not required. The subscription includes 100 minutes of long distance calls throughout North America, Young said.

There’s a $60 initial set-up cost through eGurus.

Only a telephone is needed. Landlines or cellphones can be used. Text messages can be sent as well.

Koyl uses his landline to connect to the system, which operates through voice commands picked up through its speaker. When he states someone’s name, the system confirms that it has the correct person, and Koyl dictates an email.

He listens to incoming messages, gets updates from Facebook and could use Twitter if he wished. It also operates in a number of other languages, including Spanish and French.

Emails go out in text form, with Koyl’s voice recording attached to the email. This allows recipients to hear a voice — something that could also be popular for grandparents who get messages from their grandchildren, Young said.

Koyl can vet emails before they are sent and rewrite them if he wishes.

He would be pleased to discuss the service with anyone interested. His email: gkoyl@islandnet.com.

The system is easy to use, said Young. It suits people who find technology confusing, he said. He recalled when his own parents found email increasing difficult to use as they aged. “I wanted something simple, especially for people who can’t memorize.”

Perry connected Koyl’s phone to the system in April. By the next day, Koyl had sent out 40 emails.

Working out easier access to technology and to help people remain independent is one of Young’s interests. His business has specially adapted products, such large-button devices. He refurbishes computers to sell them at low prices to seniors so they can send emails and surf the net.

In 2009, Priority 1 donated $7,000 worth of computer equipment to set up a lab for people in Salvation Army facility. The donation included a dozen computers, plus LCD monitors and printers.

Anyone wanting to try out the Talk and Send system can contact Priority 1 at 250-475-7510.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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