Visually impaired people face serious challenges when it comes to social applications; a large portion of today's content is image or video-centric, and difficult to convey through non-visual mechanisms. The problems faced by the blind are often exacerbated when it comes to mobile devices; most app developers don't even consider the visually impaired when designing their offerings, and many providers frequently change their interfaces - something that may seem inconsequential to most people, but which can create significant challenges for people who cannot easily see a screen.

Of course, visually impaired people have found ways to adopt. Specialized technologies - such as screen reading software - allow people to use smartphones even without clear vision. But with so much of social media focused on visual content, and now, as livestreaming picks up steam and becomes a mainstay of communications through offerings such as Periscope, MeVee, and Meerkat - the visually impaired are increasingly at risk of being relegated to second class.

The new ZCast app by Zula seeks to address this challenge.

ZCast is an audio only livestreaming system that enables anyone to podcast (that is, broadcast audio) with ease. Instead of requiring a computer connected to a (potentially expensive) microphone and perhaps a mixer and other audio equipment, ZCast requires that users have just a smartphone.

With a simple interface, anyone - including someone who may have difficult seeing a phone - can begin a to stream live audio from his or her smartphone or computer, broadcast a link to the session through Twitter, and then invite others to join. ZCast also accommodates multiple broadcasters in one podcast - think of this function as providing the virtual equivalent of allowing anyone in the world to listen into a panel discussion at a conference.

Interestingly, the team at Zula, the makers of ZCast, never intended their offering to become a staple of the visual impaired community - they set out to make an extremely easy to use podcasting system, in an effort to redefine how everyone uses "talk radio." Zula's CEO, Raz Yalov, told me that "In the early stages of the development process for ZCast, a lot of attention was placed on simplicity and ease of use. The goal was (and still is) to make ZCast the future platform for effortless and accessible podcasting. In doing so, it turned out that we managed to create a solution that was perfectly aligned with the needs of the blind and visually impaired community. This was a pleasant surprise for us, but one of which we are quite proud. Everyone deserves an opportunity to participate in the livestreaming revolution."

Ironically, perhaps, ZCast is already being used by blind people to educate the seeing on issues related to blindness. As an example, a now regularly scheduled show called "Accessibility Chat" gives both sighted and blind listeners the opportunity to ask questions about coping with blindness to the show's visually impaired host.

ZCast is available for iOS, and will be available for Android later in 2016. Even before the Android app is released, however, Android users can use ZCast on their devices via its web-based version which works from mobile device browsers.

Published on: Feb 8, 2016