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RFID Helps Blind Workers Do Their Jobs

The system's developer says the RFID software designed for blind users is not only effective, it's an improvement on its original RFID software.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 17, 2010Blind Industries and Services of Maryland is employing radio frequency identification at its facility in Salisbury, Md., to help its vision-disabled workers accurately pack boxes with the correct types and quantities of items. The system was provided by SimplyRFID, an RFID solutions provider and software developer based in Warrenton, Va.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had issued an RFID tagging mandate in order to improve its processes for tracking and tracing cases and pallets of goods. Since then, various branches of the U.S. military have utilized the technology to track goods at the item level. For example, RFID is being used to track inventory of training uniforms and related items as they are issued to recruits at the Lackland Air Force Base's recruit training center (see USAF Boot Camp Tracks Boots).

A ThingMagic Astra reader mounted under a workbench reads the RFID tag of each garment placed in a cardboard box. The system provides a running tally via audio and video.

Some of the many manufacturers of these uniforms, including Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, are associations of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB), an organization that links blind workers with jobs. So when it came time for these firms to respond to a request by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) that EPC Gen 2 RFID tags be attached to items being shipped to Lackland, they needed an RFID system that their blind and visually impaired workers could operate.

SimplyRFID won the bid to provide an all-inclusive RFID system to firms associated with NIB that would enable workers to interact with the tags, readers and software necessary to comply with the DLA's request. In order to provide an RFID system that vision-disabled staff members could use, SimplyRFID had to make major changes to its Nox platform—a software program would run on a server at each facility in which the RFID solution was to be deployed. Each reader would be controlled by a separate PC that receives its directives from the Nox server. The solution would also include RFID printer-encoders and tags.

For vision-disabled personnel, SimplyRFID overhauled the interface that runs on each PC, because this existing interface to its Nox software provided many drop-down menus and options that those workers would be unable to see. "In the old system, a lot of data was displayed on the PC monitor at each reader station," says Carl Brown, SimplyRFID's president. "There was the total tags in view, the total items packed. You might also see a number of error messages on the screen. There is a lot of information that is hard to process. Sighted workers have 10 to 12 options on what they can do at any moment when interacting with the software. The blind version has only yes/no options, which are provided through over 110 audio commands."

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