Q&A with Gérard Lefranc, Director of Mission Insertion at Thales
Where did the idea originally come from?
The solution derives from the “Portanum” interface, conceived by a Thales engineer to aid of a visually-impaired colleague, and subsequently developed in partnership with the CDVR, APEDV (Association des Parents d'Enfants Déficients Visuels) and the French Mutual insurance company Anjou Mayenne to help with reading documents from a distance. Nine Thales technicians built on this first development to conceive the EyeSchool solution in the framework of investments to fund future innovative digital e-education services (note that in this context, EyeSchool is the only project which concerns disabilities). To enable further large-scale deployment of the project, Thales contacted the CENTICH (Center of National Expertise of Information technologies and Communication for Autonomy) and INSHEA (National institute of training and research for the education of the young people with disabilities and tailored education).
What is EyeSchool?
It is a portable solution designed to facilitate access to reading, writing and note taking. Easy to install and to carry in the bag, the student can transport this electronic school bag from one classroom to the next. The device consists of a laptop computer, a very small-size scanner, a camera and a digital capture bar which is fixed to the board. Visually-impaired students use it to see up close, on their computer screen, what is displayed far away on the board. Besides, the software allows the user to zoom or to process the image and adapt it to their eyesight. The user can, for example, invert colors, change them, improve contrast or resolution. A mini-scanner provides access to written document comprising small characters. The student can also use vocal synthesis to read a document or browse the computer.
This material represents a great interest for children with hearing or language/communication difficulties. They can record the entirety of the information written on the board by the teacher and do not have to take notes. They can also use the vocal function to browse their computer making the use of IT easier and helping to learn lessons more easily.
What is the target audience?
EyeSchool is designed for children and students within the framework of their studies but can also be used by employees in a professional environment or in another situation where reading or writing is necessary. Users were involved at a very early stage in this project, much as we do in the avionics field with pilots in order to take their feedbacks into account.
Who is using it today?
After a study conducted with 25 students in central France, EyeSchool was selected by the National Ministry of Education. Since 2013, the solution has been deployed among 400 students in primary, college and high schools in Toulouse, Nantes, Marseille and Créteil (suburbs of Paris). Among the students, 60% are visually-impaired while 40% suffer from dyslexia. In parallel, Thales and its partners have conducted an experiment in partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education and Research in order to make the system available in lecture theatres.
What does the future hold ?
EyeSchool will be deployed more widely in France from 2015 onwards. In parallel, we will work with the Sherbrooke University in Montreal, recognized on an international scale for its innovation in research and in teaching, to transpose the device to digital tablets. The device is going to be also presented to the Thales Foundation
Did you know?
Renowned as a socially responsible company, Thales puts equal opportunities at the heart of its human resources policy. For more than 20 years, the Group had led a proactive policy to encourage the recruitment and professional development of people with disabilities.
Thales has also conceived SoundFlyer, a sound and vocal device for flying a plane for blind or partially-sighted pilots.
see the EyeSchool presentation film (in French)
“A tool tailored for each user and adapted to his or her environment