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  • Writer's pictureShannon Baird

Home Buying Can Be Daunting for the Visually Impaired

Updated: Feb 2

Innovative MLS organizations seek to alleviate this problem.


Buying a home is part of the American Dream. While exciting, it can be an overwhelming process in the best of circumstances. Being blind or visually impaired makes the milestone of home buying even more daunting.


Many prospective homebuyers begin with an internet search to learn about the neighborhoods, homes for sale or find a local real estate agent. Most pertinent websites contain property maps, home descriptions, and rely on visual cues such as photos, graphics and long-form text to describe available properties.


Lundy Founder Justin Lundy first considered the home search challenges facing visually impaired and blind individuals when he was a real estate agent in San Diego. His mother-in-law became blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, a combination of several rare eye diseases, which results in vision loss. She always enjoyed browsing through the latest real estate listings. Lundy quickly realized her vision loss hindered this favorite pastime because the content relied almost exclusively on images and the written word.


He knew she was not alone. Roughly 12 million people 40 years or older in this country are visually impaired, one million of those are legally blind. Lundy thought about his mother-in-law’s obstacles and carefully reviewed the steps and considerations in the homebuying process.


Accessing property information

Most home listings and property descriptions rely on visual content to convey details such as the layout of a kitchen or the size of the bedrooms. The use of visual cues makes the information inaccessible to visually impaired individuals. Historically, key facts such as pricing, location, floor plans, and detailed descriptions have not been available in an alternative accessible format.

Man with visual impairment shopping for a home in America

Exploring information about the neighborhood and community

Accessing insights about amenities, transportation options, and community resources holds importance when choosing a residence, especially for those with impairments. With visual data being the norm, it is extremely frustrating and onerous for the visually impaired to get what they need.


Obtaining advice

Finding experts in home financing options, mortgages, and contracts who are equipped to offer advice and support to visually impaired clientele is not an easy task. Often websites where basic information might be found are not accessible. While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires web content for businesses open to the public be accessible, it has not laid out detailed regulatory standards. The accessibility of web content has become a bigger priority for the U.S. Department of Justice in recent years, but accessibility is still very much a work in progress.


Reviewing documentation

Reviewing and understanding documents involved in buying a home can be overwhelming for those with impairments. Accessible formats like braille or audio versions may not be readily available.


Property viewings

While property viewings differ for the visually impaired, other senses such as touch, sound and smell inform them about the property and surroundings. Individuals with visual impairments also enlist friends and family members to visit properties with them and offer guidance.


 

Lundy’s mother-in-law and others should have access to the American Dream of home ownership without accessibility barriers becoming deterrents. The real estate industry is making strides, and Lundy’s Finding Homes Skill, powered by Amazon’s Alexa, provides a prime example. With his real estate agent knowledge and insights from his mother-in-law and National Federation of the Blind focus groups, Lundy began developing a technology using the information rich MLSs, natural conversational AI and Amazon’s Alexa. He knew that voice-first technology offered a way to bridge the gap between accessibility and the American Dream so anyone considering a home search could simply “ask Alexa” what they wanted to know about a property.


A woman sitting on a couch behind an Alexa device that is giving information about a home, Created using OpenAI's DALL-E

Using Amazon’s Alexa products and the Lundy technology, property listings (available from partner MLS organizations) and other information critical to buyers becomes more widely accessible. Once an MLS platform partners with Lundy, consumers can simply ask Alexa “what homes are for sale near me?”, then ask about other property attributes, including what schools are in the area or how many bedrooms and their sizes.


This is just one solution helping to connect the divide between homebuying and people with visual impairments. To effectively address these challenges and many more, potential homebuyers, real estate agents, home inspectors, lending institutions, and accessibility professionals must work closely together throughout the homebuying process, ensuring an experience specifically tailored for individuals with visual impairments.


The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) skill from Alexa is available to the real estate community, and Lundy’s technology currently offers language-interface services to more than a dozen MLS platforms nationwide. Lundy has a solid pipeline of additional MLS organizations that will soon include this audio-search technology. The home search process may always be a bit daunting, but innovation and cooperation are leading to progress in breaking down barriers to the American Dream.


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