We all have our challenges in life – physical, mental and emotional. Some are bigger, some are smaller, and some need more assistance than others to overcome. These ten apps use modern technology to enrich the lives of people with disabilities – allowing everyone to be able to use your smartphone the same way as everybody else. Today we’ll discuss some of the best disabled apps and accessibility apps for Android.
[Price: Free / $0.99]
Assistive Touch is an app that gives you virtual buttons. These virtual buttons allow you to navigate your device without having to touch it. It comes with a virtual home button, volume buttons, back button, take screenshots and more. It’s made for those who are physically disabled. Unfortunately, it has a variety of useless features as well, such as RAM cleaning, boosting, and other features. We highly recommend you don’t use those.
Google Now is already a very powerful tool. You can use it to send texts without typing anything, open apps, search the web, and call people. With Commandr, you can expand the usability of Google Now to include things like turning on a flashlight (if your device has an LED flash), toggling various functions (e.g. Bluetooth, WiFi), and even add your own custom commands using Tasker. Being able to automate many tasks via voice commands has the potential to help those with physical disabilities get around their device more easily and with less frustration. Note, you will need Google Now on your device for this to work. It’s one of the better disabled apps on Android.
Google Talkback is an accessibility feature that is built into Android to help those who are visually impaired. Once activated using the Accessibility option in the Settings menu, Google Talkback will help the visually impaired interact with their devices. It’s pretty based compared to most disabled apps and accessibility apps. It adds things like vibration, spoken, and audible feedback. The idea is to help you understand what’s happening on your device better. It’s not the end-all-be-all of solutions. However, it is pre-installed on your device so you might as well try it!
Google Translate is a very powerful app. However, most would think that it’s only good for travelers going to distance countries. You can do a lot more with a little creativity. Perhaps its best featured for the disabled is its ability to listen to spoken word and put it into text. This can be a great way for deaf people to communicate with those who don’t know ASL. It’s not as targeted as other disabled apps and accessibility apps. It’s still a good option, though.
HelpTalk is an app that can help assist in communication. It’s designed for those who are unable to communicate orally or through written word. It features a basic default profile that has a list of basic sentences and phrases. You can also create your own profile with whatever phrases you want. It uses a TTS engine for the speech and it is available in 12 languages. You can even use it to configure an emergency phone number, an emergency message, and an SOS button that will text a certain number if someone needs help. It’s one of the better disabled apps that we’ve found.
IFTTT stands for “if this, then that”. It’s an app that helps you set up automated actions. It can be used for a variety of things, including reading your text messages out loud, turning off your lights (if you have the right equipment), and all kinds of other stuff. With a bit of investment, you can make most of your house compatible with IFTTT which can make life a whole lot easier. However, it does take some work. The app is completely free. You can also find recipes for IFTTT with a simple Google Search.
JABtalk is an app designed to help non-verbal adults and kids communicate. With it you can build sentences from words, organize words into user-defined categories, import pictures and audio, and it even has text-to-speech capabilities. There’s also a backup feature With it, you can make sure to transfer your settings to a new device.. It essentially turns any Android device into an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device. It’s also completely free. It’s one of the lesser-known disabled apps. The only downside is that it has a few bugs here and there.
[Price: Free / $31.27]
NotNav GPS Accessibility is an app that was reportedly made by blind people, for blind people. It is a simple GPS navigation app that helps those walking around while blind. It will continually announce things like the nearest street address, your compass heading, nearby crosswalks and roads, and any other waypoint that you define. It’s a pretty solid and simple app. You can buy the full version for $31.27. The full version includes turn-by-turn directions as well. It’s about as good as it gets in this space.
Tecla Access is another accessibility app. It works kind of like a keyboard except you can use it all over the device to do all sorts of things. Most device functions and applications should be accessible. It’ll take you a few minutes to set up as well. There are also some bugs that can be annoying. Be sure to watch out for those. However, it’s still pretty good.
Voice Access is an app by Google. It’s for those who have physical disabilities. It utilizes the power of Google’s Voice Search to help you control your device. You can say things like “go back” or “go home” to navigate your phone. Additional commands includes “scroll down”, “click next”, and you can type with it. The app is in beta so there will almost certainly be bugs and issues that you’ll face. However, Google should make it better. Keep an eye out!
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
The connected home is one of the big buzzwords in the tech industry in recent years. It means having all of your appliances and gadgets linked via wifi, with a series of sensors, microphones and speakers allowing you to basically chat to your house. You’ll be able to say, “House, make the temperature three degrees hotter,” and it’ll alter the thermostat. You could say, “House, play Carly Rae Jepsen,” and the sweet sounds of critically acclaimed, 80s inspired, sugary synth-pop will fill every room. You could say, “House, what is the meaning of life?” and there’ll probably be an awkward silence. Along with all these silly and fun uses however, the connected home does have serious potential as assistive technology for people with disabilities.
Assistive technology, sometimes known as adaptive technology, is technology that has been developed to help improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and help them compensate for their impairments. This can be applied to anything from a wheelchair accessible van to the blades Paralympic sprinters use. Here are some of our favourite new technologies for a connected home that can also be a big help to people with disabilities.
Neato Botvac Connected Robot Vacuum
Robot Vacuums aren’t new technologies by any means, however new developments have made them far smarter and more connected. For example many can now be controlled and scheduled via an app. Obviously the fact they automatically clean your house makes them a useful assistive technology, but these added features make them even more accessible as disabled people can schedule and start the cleaning without having to physically place the vacuum down and turn it on. The Neato Botvac is probably the best performing and value for money vacuum on the market, however there are many other options so you may want to shop around.
Belkin WeMo Insight Switch
The Insight Switch could be a useful assistive technology for someone with a variety of impairments. Plug anything you like into the Insight Switch and you’ll be able to control it via your phone. So if you’re a visually impaired person who may have trouble finding the plug or someone with a physical impairment who may have trouble reaching to it, you’ll be able to turn things off with a tap of your finger. This can both help make things easier for you and help you save money.
Mr Beams Universal Light
Like many of the gadgets on this list, the Mr Beams Universal Light wasn’t solely intended as assistive technology, however it does have obvious uses to make your home more accessible. The light is battery-operated so can be attached to pretty much any location in your house, and it is activated automatically when it’s dark (it won’t turn on in the day) and it senses movement within 3 meters. This can obviously be useful for getting up during the night, both for people with mobility issues who want to be careful in their movements and for people with visual impairments who may need a bit of light to help find the full switch.
Energy UK / RNIB Smart Meters
I’m sure you’ve heard about the smart meter roll out on the news. These new meters will hopefully help people control their energy usage more accurately, thereby helping to save money and the planet. Energy UK have been working with RNIB on a project to ensure this isn’t something that overlooks visually impaired people.
Together they are working on Accessible In-Home Displays (AIHD), which are being designed to be easy to use and include colourful and tactile buttons and speech output. RNIB is giving expert advice and working with blind and partially sighted user groups to provide feedback and guidance on the design as the project moves forwards. This should make it easier for visually impaired people to comfortably heat their homes, and help them save money in the process!
Amazon Echo and Alexa
Now we’re getting into the serious connected home. The Amazon Echo is a device with speakers and microphones that you can connect to the Alexa App, Amazon’s personal assistant, and then control any number of apps by voice command. If you say, “Alexa, turn on Radio 1,” or, “Alexa, what is the weather like today?”, Alexa will respond via the speakers. You can also connect Alexa to other smart devices in your house, such as the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch I mentioned earlier.
There are obviously numerous benefits of Echo and Alexa as assistive technology. It’s completely voice activated, which means people with physical impairments that prevent them typing or visual impairments that prevent them from using tablets can still be fully connected to the internet, which is obviously key for both entertainment and important tasks. For more examples of how Alexa can be a great piece of assistive technology try this blog by Travis Love, a man with MPS I, and this blog by a man who uses Alexa to help look after his elderly mother.
Nest has been one of the companies right at the forefront of the connected home and the internet of things. It was founded by former Apple engineers and was bought by Google, so it certainly has big money behind it, and for good reason. Nest are gradually building smart versions of all manner of items in your house, such as the thermostat, burglar alarms and cameras, and connect to other items from other companies such as lights, washing machines and even cars. So if you want a truly connected home Nest might be the way to go (although obviously it won’t come cheap).
The benefit of Nest as an assistive technology is clear, being able to control almost everything in your house via your phone would make things a lot easier for many people with disabilities. A previous issue has been that the Nest app has not been very accessible to visually impaired people who use screen readers or VoiceOver on iOS. However this has been improved with recent updates and you can also now control Nest via Amazon Echo and Alexa, adding a further level of accessibility for those who may struggle to use phones.
These are examples of assistive technology to help create a connected, more accessible home. Obviously many of these gadgets are quite expensive right now, but improvements are consistently being made and prices are coming down.
Remember to share with all the tech lovers in your life and let us know if you have any great assistive technology tips or have found a product that has really helped you.
Sometimes when you read the news and hear about the latest advancements in technology it feels like we’re living in the future. 3D printing, driverless cars, robots; science fiction has become non-fiction. What’s also amazing is that many of these advancements are both accessible to visually impaired people, and improve accessibility for visually impaired people to the world.
Here are seven new technologies making the world more accessible, or sometimes just more fun, for visually impaired people.
3D Printing is one of the buzzwords in tech at the moment. There’s been a lot of hype about it but we’re still waiting to see it really impact everyday life due to costs. Hopefully that will change soon, and when it does it should bring with it some fantastic new technologies for visually impaired people.
Pirate3D is a startup with a project that prints 3D models of pictures to create ‘touchable memories’, something we’d love to do for the galleries of photos from past Seable holidays!
Similarly, 3D PhotoWorks, a company founded by a former LIFE magazine photographer, have developed a printing process for creating 3D sculptures works of fine art; allowing visually impaired people to touch and experience them.
Meanwhile, The Tactile Picture Books Project at the University of Colorado are working on providing for the youngest in society. They 3D print storybooks for children with tactile illustrations and braille captions, and have made the plans freely available online for anyone to print!
The Apple Watch has numerous features that make it accessible visually impaired people, for example Siri, VoiceOver, Zoom, an extra large watch face, and a taptic engine with optional Prominent Haptic feedback. There also great online communities of visually impaired technology users to help you get the most out of the product, that also provide full accessibility reviews and guides.
On top of this there is also a smartwatch designed especially for visually impaired people. Dot is a smartwatch that utilises ‘active Braille’ technology and allows users to read texts, emails, and even ebooks, as well as incorporating other apps such as a maps feature. Whether or not this functionality is completely usable yet is debatable, but it’s still an exciting use of Braille technology!
GPS is obviously not a new technology, but applying it effectively for visually impaired people hasn’t been simple. However a new Australian app called Guide Dogs is making strides with the technology, combining GPS controlled voice commands with physical actions — like shaking the phone — to make up for the lack of a tactile surface on a smart phone touch-screen. The app has been available for a while in Australia, and a recent successful test in London means they’re looking to go global!
One problem though is that Guide Dogs can get you to the building, but what about around inside? Once again 3D Printing has the answer! A Rutgers University project is using 3D printing to create tactile maps of their university, complete with braille room names!
Finally, we know this is mainly an article about technology for visually impaired people, but here’s a quick something for our readers who are also wheelchair users. Two great new companies, WheelMap and AccessNow are using crowdsourcing to produce interactive map apps that highlight the most (and least) accessible destinations for wheelchair users.
Google’s driverless car has been in the news for a few years now, and in 2013 a blind man in San Francisco, Steve Mahan, became the first person to test a driverless car on public roads. The technology is continually advancing, however there have been legal blocks preventing further testing and progression, for example the insistence that a driverless car must still have a driver with a license, meaning visually impaired people would still be unable to use them. However a few weeks ago the U.S. government redefined what it means to be a driver, paving the way for more testing and use by visually impaired people.
Again a quick one for our readers who are wheelchair users. Ford recently unveiled the world’s only volume-production wheelchair-accessible SUV, the BraunAbility MXV. The car features features patented sliding-door technology, removable driver and passenger seats, and a powered, lighted in-floor ramp. Wheelchair users can either drive the car from the removable driver’s seat or ride as a passenger.
Cinema descriptive narration is also nothing too new, however Pixar, as with their filmmaking, are coming up with ways to revolutionise it. With the release of their new film, The Good Dinosaur, they trialed a new iOS narration app to over 200 visually impaired people. The app automatically syncs with films from Pixar and Disney and provides additional commentary so the user can control their own entertainment experience from the app. Pixar also worked closely with the visually impaired community to develop the app’s language and usability.
This may seem surprising, but smartphone uptake was actually faster among people with impaired vision, with Apple’s previously mentioned VoiceOver screen reader software being installed as standard since the iPhone 3GS. Therefore it has been relatively easy for developers to cater for visually impaired people and there are some great options out there.
The Nightjar is a sci-fi game about exploring a space ship plunged into darkness, was nominated for two gaming BAFTA awards and is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Papa Sangre II is voiced by Sean Benn and like The Nightjar is a thriller about trying to escape the world of the dead. It won Metacritic’s iOS game of the year award in 2013.
If you’re into a slightly less action based game, Lords & Knights is a strategy based, medieval MMO.
See All is a new device from a Russian engineer that converts electronic information into Braille. It has two modules, one for a teacher and one for a student, whilst it can also play audio files and transfer messages from teacher to student, allowing students to interactively learn to read and write in Braille. It’s currently only available in Russia, but hopefully will be available globally soon with web integration so that teaching can be done from anywhere!
Let us know if we missed any of your favourite technology for visually impaired people in the comments and remember to share with your friends who love tech.
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
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