Accessibility apps will increase as awareness grows.
People with disabilities face challenges every day of their lives, even more so now that we live in a constantly connected and mobile society.
Mobile accessibility was one of the hot topics in 2015, especially when considering the fact that there are currently no hard guidelines for developers to follow when it comes to building apps that are accessible to all. Mobile and Web accessibility has become more of a priority for some companies, especially when you take into account the legal ramifications of not having an accessible website or app but there are signs that the landscape is slowly changing.
For example, Facebook updated its React and React Native programming frameworks to make it easier to build accessible apps back in November 2015, ComputerWorld reported. Further, much of the hardware shipped in the last 12 months have come with accessibility features baked in.
With that in mind, there are an increasing number of apps available that cater specifically for the differently abled and the following list showcases a few of the apps that have caught ARC’s roving eye. It should be noted that this list is only a taste of what is out there and is a quick guide to some of the apps that are accessibility-centric.
SwiftKey Symbols (Free)
Being able to communicate is key for people who are verbally disabled. SwiftKey uses symbols or images to construct routine-based sentences on a keypad that get the message across and replaces any need to talk out loud. The app was developed with autism in mind, but covers the entire spectrum of communication disabilities. The team behind the app worked with professor Stephen Hawking on a number of previous projects and is in beta testing on Android.
While technically not an app per se, the Dot watch is the first smart watch that uses braille. Around 95% of blind people don’t learn braille due to the cost of dedicated readers, while only 1% of normal books have been translated into braille. The Dot watch gives blind or visually impaired people the option to receive text-based data on their wrist and will cost $300. Still in beta testing at the moment, it can support both iOS and Android.
Access Now (Free)
One of the problems that disabled people have on a daily basis is knowing whether a public building such as restaurant is accessible or not.
Access Now is a database of accessible locations that works in much the same way as the popular Bring Fido app. For example, wheelchair-bound users with can search for locations that are fully accessible or pin a building to an interactive community-run map so that other people can find out where they can go or where there may be issues.
Currently in crowd-sourced beta, users have already given the thumbs up (or down) to 1,884 places in 97 global cities … which is not a bad start.
Built by Israeli-based Voiceitt, Talkitt is currently counting down to a beta launch in 2016. The app helps people with speech impairments talk to friends and relatives through a dictionary of sounds that become associated with words. For example, somebody who has suffered a stroke or has a degenerative disease can communicate on either a smartphone or a tablet with the sounds made translating into text on the screen. Talkitt was recently awarded first place in a German medical app competition and has already received numerous plaudits for innovation in accessibility.
Be My Eyes (Free)
Another community-based app, Be My Eyes pairs a blind person with a sighted user on a smartphone or tablet. The app is relatively simple. Blind people can request help via an audio-video connection to find out answers to questions that may be as simple as finding out whether a can contains peas or carrots. Becoming part of the Be My Eyes network gives non-visually impaired people the chance to help blind users lead a relatively normal life by reducing the daily challenges that they face.
Actual phone conversations may have been replaced by instant messaging, but there are still people who prefer to chat rather than text.
The problem for deaf people is that talking on the phone can be a one-way experience. RogerVoice was developed to allow people who can’t hear to carry out conversations with other people using voice-recognition software to provide transcript of the call in real-time. Although it was developed primarily for those with hearing difficulties, the app can also be used by people that suffer with speech impairments.
Anyone who has ever had trouble following a conversation in a crowded bar or restaurant is well aware that sound doesn’t always travel. For instance, why do you cock your head to one side to hear someone better? Scientists call this act adaptive beam forming and it is one of the basic puzzles of how sound travels that led to the creation of the Microsoft Kinect.
HearYouNow is a hearing aid that amplifies sound simply by plugging headphones into a smartphone. The app can be adjusted to whatever level is comfortable in a specific listening environment. Designed as interim solution for people who may be in the early stages of hearing loss, the app is a useful alternative to expensive hearing aids.
Another symbol-based communication tool, Avaz is geared towards children with autism. The app mimics the way that children learn in real life, with the intention being to allow an autistic child to develop language and communication skills on an iPad. The app has over 15,000 symbols in its library and can be used by either parents or caregivers. Unlike some communication apps that only use one voice, Avaz is tailored to the natural tone of the country in which it is being used.
Stepping Stones (Paid)
One of the challenges that disabled people or those with learning difficulties is keeping a sense of routine. Stepping Stones creates visual paths for people to map out what needs to be done by taking pictures of daily life that run in a sequence. The app is primarily aimed at people who need visual support to maintain a sense of independence and available for both children and adults.
IF by IFFTT
This app is basic but extremely useful for people that need help with connecting various app actions.
In a nutshell, IF by IFFT is a recipe app that makes using a smartphone a lot easier for those with physical disabilities. For example, the app can be configured to read texts automatically or even control thermostats in a smart home. Any app that works with other apps (taking pictures and posting them to Facebook, say) can be connected with the intention being to make life and communication easier for the disabled.