Adi Kushnir is no ordinary teenager. The 17-year-old Israeli engineer has been blind since birth and focuses his work on making software and apps more useful to visually-impaired users.
Kushnir's newest project has been to make ride-hailing service Gett's app accessible for blind users. The new feature, which Gett rolled out Wednesday in New York, the UK, Russia and Israel, lets visually impaired users interact with the app by speaking, rather than using touch technology.
"This is a big deal for the blind because it saves us time, and lots of time," Kushnir said. "You can make pickups in advance, and be totally independent."
Most ride-hailing services, which connect passengers with drivers via a smartphone app, don't have a feature for blind users. The world's largest ride-hailing company Uber, which is in 250 cities in 57 countries, is currently being sued for allegedly denying rides to blind passengers with service animals. Gett, which is small compared to Uber -- it operates in 50 cities worldwide -- aims to distinguish itself by making its app accessible to visually impaired passengers.
"Our app offers visually-impaired passengers something unique and practical: the ability to order and board black cars independently, minus the stress and uncertainty," Gett CEO Shahar Waiser said in a statement.
Kushnir became fascinated with visually-impaired assisted technology when he was 9-years-old and by the age of 12 he was working to improve screen-writing software for blind users. He has since worked as a consultant for companies like Apple and Google on integrating this assisted technology into their products.
Earlier this year, Kushnir approached Gett about making its app accessible for visually-impaired users and the company quickly brought him on board. Together they worked to add voice features to the app's preexisting touch phone technology.
Most smartphones have built-in accessibility for visually-impaired users, but not all apps are compatible with that software. That's why many app makers need to optimize their apps for blind users. For example, in the Gett app, users can now switch on features like "voice over" and "talk back," so that they can communicate with the app by speaking.
"I want to raise awareness across developers in order for them to make their apps totally accessible," Kushnir said. "When you talk to people about accessibility, they think that they should re-write their app, or develop something special. But actually, not. The access technologies are built-in to the mainstream devices, so there is no excuse for them not to make it."