Smartphones and tablet PCs have revolutionised mobile technology and the way we communicate today. They have also transformed the Assistive Technology (AT) market for people with disabilities. These mainstream devices provide people with mini-computers they can use ‘on the go’ and they are much more affordable than many dedicated AT or AAC devices.
The introduction of apps (software applications that run on mobile devices and tablets) has further revolutionised the way we use our phones. These ‘apps’ which can be downloaded to your smartphone or tablet PC provide a particular service or allow you to interact with a website. For example, the LUAS app provides a realtime timetable of the trams at each station along the green and red line. There are thousands of apps available for download with new ones constantly being developed, so there is probably already an app for any task you need to complete.
There are apps available that have been designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities, for example, Prologue2Go, a text-to-speech app for people who have difficulty with their speech. Being able to download apps to your smartphone or tablet PC means you have a small, integrated device to store everything you need, rather than having a number of pieces of stand-alone equipment. This makes it cheaper, easier and more efficient for people with disabilities to perform a wide range of tasks. It can also help to remove the stigma of having a large dedicated A.T. device that stands-out, as these days everyone walks around with a phone in their hand! For example, before the introduction of smartphones and apps, someone with a visual impairment may have needed to bring a number of items out and about to ‘see’ for them. They may have carried a money recognition device, a colour recognition device, a screen-reader and a magnifier. Now they can download a screen-reader app, magnifier app, money recognition app and colour recognition app to their phone and just carry the software around.
As the app market is constantly growing and changing, it would be impossible to list all the relevant disability apps on Assist Ireland. Instead, we will just describe the main types of apps available with examples, and provide links to where you can browse and download them yourself.
Before looking at the apps in more detail, it is worthwhile first talking about the smartphone and tablet devices. Some of these devices could in fact be described as assistive technology as they have recently been developed to include various accessible features which can simply be ‘turned on’ if required, making them easier to use for people with disabilities.
INTEGRATED ACCESSIBILITY FEATURES ON YOUR SMARTPHONE OR TABLET
Different smartphones run on different operating systems. The operating system is the software the phone uses to provide all its functionality and it determines how the person navigates around their phone, accesses the internet, finds and downloads apps and their general experience of the phone. Some phones operating systems’ are more accessible for people with disabilities than others, though most phones today have some basic accessibility functions that make them easier to use. The main operating systems are Apple iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry OS and Windows. Let’s take a look at just some of the access features integrated into the two main operating systems, Android and Apple iOS.
Apple Operating System (iOS)
The Apple iOS (currently Version 10) is the Operating System used for Apple iPad tablets, iPhone smartphones and the iPod touch. This operating system has a number of integrated functions that allow or improve access for people with disabilities. Older versions of the phone may run on older versions of the operating system so may not have all the features listed here. To access most accessibility options in your iPhone, go to Settings-General-Accessibility.
- VoiceOver: is a built-in screenreader that allows you to use the iPhone even if you can’t see the screen. You touch the screen to hear a description of the item under your finger, so for example it will announce battery level, whose calling or which app your fingers on. You then double-tap to activate the feature you need. When you are typing a note, email, or text message, VoiceOver echoes each character on the keyboard as you touch it, and again to confirm when you enter it. It can also speak each completed word if required. VoiceOver also includes a Braille keyboard, enabling direct braille entry.
- Zoom: lets you magnify the entire screen of any application you are using to help you see what is on the display. Double-tap on the screen to enable Zoom, then you can adjust the magnification from 100% to 1,500%.
- Siri: allows you to perform tasks on your phone hands-free using just your voice. You can send messages, schedule meetings, make phone calls, and more. This voice recognition functionality can be useful for people with a visual impairment or people with limited dexterity. Siri is also integrated with VoiceOver so you can ask Siri a question and hear the answer read out loud.
- Speak Screen: reads the contents of a page back to you, for example you can use Speak Screen to read out your email, iMessages, webpages, and books. This may be helpful if you have a hard time reading the text on your device.
- Dictation: is a speech-to-text feature that allows you to speak what you want typed. To access Dictation, tap the microphone button on the keyboard, say what you want to write, and your device converts your words into text.
- Face Time: provides video calling, which allows people to see the caller on their screen in real-time. This can be helpful for people using sign language or lip reading.
- Font Adjustments: allows you to convert the text to a larger size so it is easier to read. You can also to bold text to make it heavier and easier to see.
- Invert Colors and Grayscale: provides higher contrast or reduces colour to help you see what’s on screen. You can save your preferred settings so that each of the phone’s features and apps use you settings.
- Visible and Vibrating Alerts: provides alternative visual and vibrating alerts for incoming phone calls, new text messages, new and sent mail, and calendar events. You can set an LED light flash for incoming calls and alerts or have incoming calls display a photo of the caller. You can also choose from different vibration patterns or create your own. This can be useful for someone with a hearing impairment.
- Mono Audio: allows you to play both audio channels (left and right) in both ears when using headphones. This means that you don’t miss any audio if you’re deaf or hard of hearing in one ear.
- Closed Captions: allows you to watch movies, TV shows, and podcasts with closed captions. You can customise captions with different styles and fonts.
- Switch Control: allows you to navigate your mobile device using a variety of Bluetooth-enabled switches.
- Guided Access: allows you to disable the ‘home’ button and restrict access to the keyboard or touch input on your mobile device so the user stays focused on one app. It also allows you to limit the amount of time spent in an app. This may help people with attention and sensory challenges to stay focused on one task.
Apple has been the pioneer in accessibility for smartphones and tablets but some of the Android operating systems have started to catch up. Below find details of some of their accessibility functionality.
Android Operating System (Android)
The Android operating system developed by Google is used on a range of different devices including smartphones and tablet PC’s from Samsung, Acer, LG, HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson etc. Therefore it does not have as many integrated accessibility features and not all phones using the Android operating system will have all the accessibility features listed below. If your phone does not have any of these features, you can download them for free in the Android App Store. To access most accessibility options in your Android phone, go to Settings-Accessibility. Some of these accessibility apps are not compatible with older devices working on an older version of the Android operating system.
- Talkback: is a screenreader that provides spoken and vibration feedback to describe your actions on the phone or Tablet, such as when you launch an app, add an event or make and receive calls etc. Soundback, Kickback and Explore by Touch are included in Talkback for devices using Android 4.0 or higher or for older devices are featured separately in the device’s accessibility section. Soundback lets you assign sounds to alert you to actions on your phone, Kickback provides vibration feedback when you perform actions on your phone and Explore by Touch uses speech to describe each item that your finger moves over on the screen.
- Voice Access: let’s you control your Android device with your voice. Using spoken commands, you can activate on-screen controls, launch apps, navigate your device and edit text using your voice rather than touching the screen. This feature requires Android 5.0 or higher to run.
- BrailleBack: allows you to connect a refreshable braille display to your Android device (via Bluetooth) so screen content appears on your braille display. Then you can navigate and interact with your device using the keys on the braille display. You can also input text using the braille keyboard. BrailleBack works with the TalkBack screen reader service to provide a combined speech and braille experience.
- Switch Access: let’s you interact with your Android device using one or more switches. This can be helpful for users with mobility limitations that prevent them from interacting directly with the Android device. This feature only applies to devices running Android 5.0 and higher.
- Captions: allows you to turn on closed captioning for some functionality on your phone. This feature may allow you to see the words in text as they are being spoken in certain apps. You can set the language, text, and style for the closed captioning to suit your needs. Requires Android 4.4 and higher to run.
- Magnification Gestures: allows you to temporarily magnify the screen of your device. When magnification gestures are enabled, you can magnify, pan, and zoom in using a range of different gestures.
- Large Text: increases the text size on your device to the largest available size.
- High Contrast Text: fixes the text colour as either black or white making text easier to read on your device. This feature runs on Android 5.0 and higher.
The other operating systems for mobile devices such as, Windows Mobile OS and Symbian OS are not as widely used and do not have as many accessibility features as the two main OS systems above, but they are all working on improving accessibility in newer versions of their operating systems.
BEFORE YOU PURCHASE OR DOWNLOAD AN APP
Though smartphones and tablets have some integrated accessibility functions, it is the apps (applications) you download that can transform them into a personalised AT device to help you live more independently. There are over four million apps currently available, ranging in cost from free to €200+.
Some apps (whether intentionally or accidentally) can be of huge value to people with disabilities but some apps can also potentially exclude them. For example, app accessibility is very mixed, with some apps being extremely inclusive and others being completely inaccessible. App developers need to think about accessibility when developing their apps to help ensure accessibility and inclusion. Some other issues with apps that you may need to consider in advance of purchase include:
- Some apps are developed by a parent or family member so they have one end-user in mind, therefore they may not suit a wider market/everyone
- Some apps cannot be edited or customised.
- Some apps are only available for download in certain countries
- Some apps are subscription based
- Voice and picture quality can vary
- Some apps may not be compatible with older devices using older versions of operating systems.
It can be quite overwhelming looking for an app as there are so many available, so it is worthwhile getting advice on what might best suit your needs. A Speech and Language Therapist or an Occupational Therapist (OT) may be able to advise you on this, but as apps are a relatively new area, some of them may not have information you require. You could also look at specific organisations, like the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), DeafHear or Enable Ireland for advice (see their contact details in the Useful Addresses section). These organisations should be able to recommend apps for you based on your needs. There are also a number of websites, blogs and guides that advise and review disability-related apps, see below for details of a few.
- Bridging Apps: online community reviewing apps
- Android Forum: forum with discussions and a Q&A section on Android phones, Tablets and apps
- AbilityNet’s Top 10 Accessible Apps: list of AbilityNet’s top-rated apps for accessibility
- AppleVis: a website and forum for blind and low vision users of Apple products
- Apple Apps for AAC: website listing communication apps for Apple devices
- Android Apps for AAC: website listing communication apps for Android devices
- Memory Apps for Dementia: website listing apps for people with Dementia
- Appy Autism: website with information on mobile devices and apps for people with autism
- AT Guide to Accessible Apps, Games and Toys: guide to apps for people with disabilities
- One Place for Special Needs: document listing apps for people with special needs
- ATandMe: website and blog with information on Assistive Technology and apps for people with disabilities
It is recommended that you download your apps from well-known app markets or stores as then you will be less likely to download malware or viruses to your device. You could also look at downloading an anti-virus app for your phone or tablet to protect from this. It is also important to check that the app is compatible with your device and your operating system before you download it. Some apps work best on the newest versions of phones and their operating systems.
Now that you are ready to buy your app, let’s look at where to download them. Apps for iphones and ipads are downloaded from the App Store on iTunes. You can use the App Store directly from your Apple phone or tablet by tapping on the app store icon on your device or by using the App Store in iTunes on your Mac or PC. If you want to buy apps for your Mac, buy them through the Mac App Store instead of iTunes. Before you can buy apps, you need an Apple ID. Your Apple ID is the account that you use to access Apple services such as the App Store, Apple Music, iCloud, iMessage, FaceTime, and more. If you don’t have an Apple ID, you can create one.
For Android, you can download apps from the Google Play Store. You can download them directly to your Android device using the Google Play store icon which will be pre-installed on your phone or Tablet. You will need to create a Google account to access and download apps from the play store.
APPS FOR PEOPLE WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS
Having a camera on a phone or tablet PC can be very useful for people with visual impairments because there are apps available that allow you to take a photo of text and the app can read it aloud or magnify it. There are also a range of identification apps that will recognise and speak aloud the colour of an object, value of a note or type of object. You can also download screenreading apps and voice recognition apps. For information on apps for people with visual impairments, you may wish to contact the NCBI, or look at the AppleVis forum, a forum website for blind and low-vision users of Apple’s products.
Magnification apps are designed to give a magnified image on the smartphone or tablet screen. Some of these magnification apps work best on newer versions of smartphones which have enhanced autofocus cameras. These are just a taste of some of the magnification apps that are available. To browse through them all you will need to visit the Apple or Android app stores.
- Magnifying Glass with Light (iOS): app that uses the phones camera to transform your iPhone or iPad into a full screen lighted magnifying glass.
- Magnifying Glass Flashlight (Android): app that uses the phones camera to transform your Android device into a lighted magnifier.
- Big Magnify (iOS): magnifying app that uses the devices camera to enlarge items. App has range of magnification options and freeze image functionality.
- Magnifier (Android): magnifying app that uses the devices camera to enlarge items. App has onscreen zoom, lighting controls and freeze image functionality.
- Best Magnifying Glass (Android): app that uses the device’s camera to magnify text or images.
- Big Names (iOS): an app that enlarges your contacts list in an extra-large font so it is easier to see when dialling numbers.
- Big Launcher (Android): an app that allows you to customise your home-screen with big buttons and large fonts that represent the phones main functions.
Colour Identification Apps
Apps that use the camera on your phone to identify and speak the name of the colour in front of you.
- Color ID (Android & iOS)
- Color Detector (Android & iOS)
Money Identification Apps
Apps that use your smartphone camera to identify the value of a note. Point the camera at the note and the app will then speak aloud the notes denomination or vibrate to indicate its value.
- Looktel Money Reader (iOS): recognises currency and speaks the notes denomination. Supports 21 different currencies including the Euro, GBP and US Dollar.
- Money Talks Euro (Android): uses the devices camera to recognise and read out the value of the Euro banknote.
Object Identification Apps
Apps that use your smartphone camera to identify objects. Some of these apps use a photo library and/or a bar code scanner to identify objects. They will then speak aloud the type of object in the photo.
- LookTel Recogniser (iOS): app that speaks aloud the description of an object. The user creates a photo library by photographing items and recording descriptions. Once an item is entered into the database, hold the camera in front of the item and the app will speak the recorded description. The app also has a bar code scanner, which speaks the name of the item when you scan the camera over the barcode.
- Ideal Item Identifier (Android): app that reads aloud product descriptions when the user takes a picture of the barcode.
- ScanLife Barcode and QR Reader (Android): app that uses your camera to identify objects using barcodes. Once the codes are scanned, the application starts reading aloud the product details.
- VizWiz (iOS): an identification app that uses crowd-sourcing. You take a picture of an item, record a question and then send the photo and question to your choice of anonymous web volunteers, IQ Engines, your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends, and/or an e-mail contact. Answers are returned to the app and are spoken as they appear.
- TapTapSee (iOS): identification app designed to help the blind and visually impaired identify objects they encounter in their daily lives. Double tap on the screen to take a photo of anything and hear the app speak the identification back to you.
Light Identification Apps
- Light Detector (Android & iOS): app that converts light levels into audio tones, so someone who is blind can detect if a light is on or off. The app uses the phones camera to identify the light source and emits a high or low pitched sound depending on the intensity of the light.
- Seeing Assistant – Light (iOS): app that uses the phones camera to identify a light source. The app emits a continuous sound during operation but the tone of the sound gets higher depending on the intensity of the light.
- Free Motion Light Detector (Android): app that detects changes in light or movements that occur around the user by emitting a beep or vibration. Depending on the level of change the beep tone and duration of the vibration will vary.
Scan and Read Apps
- Text Detective (iOS): app that uses the camera on your smartphone to turn images of text into plain text, which can be read with VoiceOver using speech output or Braille.
- KNFB Reader (iOS & Android): print-to-speech app that uses your phone’s camera to take pictures of printed material, convert the pictures into text and then read the text aloud. Recognised text may also be read using a connected Braille display.
- Prizmo (iOS): app that allows users to scan in a text document and have the program read it out loud.
- Text Fairy (Android): app that takes a photo of a document and converts it into a text document that you can listen to by activating the text-to-speech feature.
Your smartphone may already have a screenreader built into its operating system, for example, Apple’s VoiceOver or Android’s Talkback (see above). But there are also a number of screenreading apps that you can download to your phone.
- Classic Text-to-Speech (Android): app that reads out texts, e-books and provides navigation in a choice of forty female and male voices.
- Voice Dream Reader (iOS & Android): app that reads out articles, documents and books on your phone or Tablet. Available with a range of voices and languages.
- Voice Brief (iOS): reads aloud a range of notifications from your phones applications including your calendar, weather app, good reader, email and social media apps.
- NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access): a free and open source screenreader for computers using Microsoft Windows and many third party applications. It provides feedback via synthetic speech and Braille. You can control what text is read out using the mouse or arrows on the keyboard. NVDA works with Microsoft Windows and it can be downloaded to a PC or to a USB which can then be used with any computer. For more information or to download, visit www.nvaccess.org
Voice Recognition Apps
These apps allow you to use your voice to navigate between applications, write texts or make calls on your phone. Your phone may have some of this functionality built-in, for example, Siri on iOS but these following apps may offer greater control and customisation.
- Dragon Dictation (iOS): a voice recognition app that allows you to speak your text or email rather than typing it.
- Dragon Mobile Assistant (Android): app that allows you to use your voice to send and receive text messages, post social media updates, write emails and browse the internet.
- Assistant (Siri Alternative) (Android): app that allows you to use your voice to navigate around your phone. You can use voice commands to send emails, dial your contacts, set alarms, reminders and listen to music etc.
Location and GPS Apps
Many phones now have built-in GPS receivers that are sufficient for navigation. The built-in navigation in Android is based on Google’s map, with driving and walking directions available. Android will use the built-in text-to-speech on the phone to speak turns as they are approaching. There is also a range of downloadable apps available that use GPS to let you know where you are and what services, businesses or points of interest are in the area. The apps speak this information aloud and can be customised so you hear only what you are looking for, for example, a coffee shop on your route. As these apps are dependent on GPS mapping, some areas may provide more extensive information than others. Examples of such apps include:
- Sendero GPS LookAround App (iOS & Android): app that speaks your location, what direction you are facing and what points of interests are around when you shake your phone.
- Ariadne (iOS): app that tells your position and allows you to monitor it while walking, telling you street numbers or street names. You can save favourite locations into the app and be alerted when you approach one of them. You can be alerted with a sound, vibration or a voice.
- BlindSquare (iOS): app that finds your location using Apple’s GPS then looks up information about your surroundings. When you shake your device it speaks your current address and details of the venues around you.
- Get There GPS (Android): app that tells you where you are and how to get to your destination. It talks to you before and after every intersection and you can ask it to tell you where you are at any time by shaking your mobile device.
- Around Me (Android): app that identifies your position and shows you a list of the businesses around you and the distance to them in a range of categories such as banks, hotels, restaurants, hospitals etc.
There are a range of apps available for people with a visual impairment to help them enjoy books on their mobile device. There are a range of audio book apps that allow you to download and listen to audio books on your phone or tablet. You can also download apps so you can listen to Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) audio books. A DAISY book is a set of electronic files that include audio narration, text marked with special navigation tags, and other files that synchronize the text with the audio.
- Audible (iOS & Android): app that allows you to download audio books and listen to them on your device.
- Pastime Audiobook and Podcast Player (iOS): app that plays audio books and podcasts and can be controlled by the user’s gestures. Pick an audio book or podcast from the iTunes library, then tap the screen to play or pause it and use swiping motions to fast-forward or rewind it.
- Read2Go (iOS): accessible DAISY player app for Apple devices. Allows you to customise font size, font colour, background colour, highlighting colour, and text-to-speech preferences.
- Darwin Daisy Reader (Android): an app that reads DAISY audio books. Allows you to navigate the app using the arrow keys and all menus are vocalised. You can customise the font and background color, text size, font spacing, voice speed and punctuation speech.
For people who are used to using Braille, there are some apps available that teach you Braille and ones that allow you to type in Braille on your touchscreen. BrailleBack comes as a standard feature on some newer Android devices but can also be downloaded to Android devices that don’t have it. It allows you to connect a refreshable braille display to your Android device (via Bluetooth) so screen content appears on your braille display. Then you can navigate and interact with your device using the keys on the braille display. You can also input text using the braille keyboard.
- BraillePad (iOS): app that allows user to write text messages, emails and social media updates on their device using Braille. To insert a letter you just need to touch each Braille point it is composed of on the device’s screen.
- iBrailler (iOS): app that allows you to use Braille to access and use your Apple device. The app positions the Braille touch keyboard underneath the user’s fingertips, no matter where they set them on the display.
- Super Braille Keyboard (Android): app that allows you to use Braille to access and use your Android device.
- Braille Tutor (iOS & Android): app where you can learn to read and write Braille.
Access and Other Apps
- Fleksy (iOS & Android): an app which allows you to type text on a touchscreen without even looking at it. It has a QWERTY keyboard layout with auto-correct and predictive text that mean you can type every letter in a sentence wrong and it will still predict the correct sentence
- Be My Eyes (iOS): app that connects blind users to a group of sighted volunteers who they can video chat with when required. The sighted person can tell the blind person what they see when the blind user points their phone’s camera at something.
- List Recorder (iOS): app that records voice and text notes so you can make lists or notes using your voice.
- Video Motion Alert (iOS): app that detects motion by using your phones camera. You aim the phone’s camera at the space you’d like to monitor and an alarm will sound if motion is detected.
APPS FOR PEOPLE WITH HEARING IMPAIRMENTS
There are a number of different apps available for someone with a hearing impairment. For example, video-calling means that people can use sign language over the phone to communicate. There are also captioning apps which can ‘text caption’ a phone call so you can read anything you did not fully hear during the conversation.
Texting is also an important tool for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, there are a number of messaging apps that allow you to text, send photos or video’s to other people or groups of people using the app. These apps are useful as they are normally free to use as long as you have internet access.
- WhatsApp (iOS & Android): messaging app that allows you to send texts, pictures and video to other people or groups of people who also use the app.
- Viber (iOS & Android): messaging app that allows you to send texts, pictures and video to other people or groups of people who also use the app.
- Facebook Messenger (iOS & Android): this social media messaging app, allows you to send texts, images and videos to other people or groups of people who also use the app.
- Snapchat (iOS & Android): picture messaging app that lets you send pictures and videos with captions to other people or groups of people who also use the app.
Video Calling Apps
Video-calling on a phone can be very helpful for someone with a hearing impairment as it allows the user to see the caller using sign language. Your phone may already have video calling built into its operating system, for example ‘FaceTime’ on iOS. Some of the apps below may also be of use, remember that you will need a camera on your device to use these apps and may also need Wi-Fi.
- Skype (iOS & Android): an app that provides face-to-face video calls and instant messaging. This means someone who is hard of hearing can use sign language and messaging to converse in real-time using the screen on their phone.
- Viber (iOS & Android): this web messaging app, allows you to send texts to other people or groups of people who also use the app. It also has a video call feature that allows you to see your conversation partner, so they can use sign language if required.
- Facebook Messenger (iOS & Android): this social media messaging app, allows you to send texts to other people or groups of people who also use the app. It has a video call feature that allows you to see your conversation partner, so they can use sign language if required.
- Glide (iOS & Android): video chat app that allows you to send videos to other people or groups of people that use the app, allowing you to communicate in real-time using sign language.
Amplification apps increase sound and send it directly to your ear blocking out background sound.
- Usound (Hearing Assistant) (iOS & Android): app that amplifies sound so that people with hearing impairments can use it with earphones to hear conversations, movies and TV. The app initially does a hearing test to assess your hearing difficulties and customises the amplification to your needs. The amplification can also be adjusted for different situations.
- Hear You Now (iOS): app that amplifies sound so that people with hearing impairments can hear conversations in noisy environments or listen to TV and movies. The amplification level can be adjusted to suit the user’s needs or the situation.
- LouderTV (iOS): a personal amplifier app that increases TV sounds for people with hearing impairments. Plug your headphones into your phone and the app will send what is being said on the TV straight to your phone at an increased volume level.
- Hamilton CapTel (iOS & Android): a captioning app that captions what is being said on a phone call, so you can read the bits you miss.
- Clear Captions (iOS & Android): app that adds captions to your phone calls so you can hear and read what’s being saidl.
- Subtitles Viewer (iOS & Android):an app that provides subtitles on your phone so you can play it along with a TV show or movie and read the subtitles on your phone screen. The app only displays the subtitles on your phone.
- Live Caption (iOS & Android):app that provides captions for face-to-face conversations. Your conversation partner speaks into your smartphone and the app uses voice recognition software to transcribe the words onto the device’s screen.
Alternative Alert Apps
You can also translate audible alerts to visual or vibration alerts.
- TapTap (iOS): app that listens and detects warning alarms like fire alarms etc and vibrates to alert you of an alarm.
- MyEarDroid – Sound Recognition (Android): app that identifies sounds in the home such as the door-bell or alarm clock and alerts you to the event by vibrating or flashing. You can record a range of different sounds that you want the app to recognise around the home.
- Otosense (iOS & Android): app that detects noises around the home such as the doorbells and fire alarm and vibrates, flashes or texts you to alert you of the alarm. The app is pre-programmed to recognise standard smoke alarms but can also be customised to other alarm sounds in your home.
Voice Recognition Apps
- Dragon Dictation (iOS) & Dragon Mobile Assistant (Android): speech-to-text app that allows someone to record their speech and have it converted to text so that someone with a hearing impairment can read it. Dragon will transcribe the words as the person is speaking so there is no delay in communication.
- Speak 2 See (iOS): speech-to-text app that uses voice recognition software to convert words into large text on screen.
- Note, Listen (iOS): app that allows the user to makes notes for a hearing person, then when they reply the app converts their words into text on screen using voice recognition software.
- Note, Speak, Listen (Android): app that allows the user to makes notes in large text on the device’s screen for a hearing person, then when they reply the app converts their words into text on screen using voice recognition software.
Sign Language Apps
- ISL Everywhere (Android): app for people wanting to learn Irish Sign Language (ISL), designed to support families of deaf and hard of hearing children learning ISL. It features the ISL alphabet and numbers and a glossary of the most commonly used words and phrases.
- Concise ISL (iOS & Android): this app provides an Irish Sign Language (ISL) video dictionary with over 1000 signs.
APPS FOR PEOPLE WITH COMMUNICATION DIFFICULTIES
Apps to help with communication have made a huge difference to people with communication difficulties. Stand-alone AAC devices are hugely expensive compared to a smartphone/tablet and a communication app, which are cheaper and in most cases a lot more portable. Also many of the well-established AAC software companies have brought out app versions of their software, so people can move to a smartphone/tablet but keep the communication software they are used to. This AAC app area is constantly growing, so below is just a few of the most popular apps in this category. Check the Apps for AAC website for more information https://appsforaac.net
Apple has been the forerunner in AAC apps, so many of the most popular communication apps are only available on iOS at the moment.
Single Message Apps
- TapSpeak Button(iOS): app that turns your device into a single message communication device. You can record a number of messages and store them, then play the one you want when you press the image of a button onscreen.
- AAC My Message (Android): one-message communication app that allows you to record a message and play it back by pressing on the screen.
Sequenced Message Apps
- TapSpeak Sequence (iOS): iPad app that allows you to record and playback customised sequential messages. You can tell a story by recording different sequential sentences/phrases and playing each one back every time you press the onscreen button. The app contains the DynaVox/Mayer-Johnson PCS image library so you can choose one of these icons/images to represent what you have recorded instead of a button image.
Visual Scene Display Apps
- Scene & Heard (iOS): app that enables your Apple device to function as an alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) system. You can build scenes and vocabulary by taking photos with the device or importing from its photo library, then recording voice messages for scenes to ask questions or share stories. The app contains over 10,000 Widgit symbols.
Apps for Whole Message Buttons
- TapToTalk (iOS and Android): communication app that displays a set of pictures onscreen. When you tap a picture, the app plays a word or sentence and then displays another or follow-on screen of pictures relevant to the topic. Each set of pictures can lead to another related screen, and so on. For example, a picture representing Food can lead to a screen with pictures of Fruit, Vegetables, Sandwiches, Snacks and other foods.
- iComm (iOS): this communication app uses words (both written and spoken) and personalised pictures for communication. It organises pictures and their descriptions into nine categories, and pictures can be added, edited or changed to the user’s needs. The program includes pictures needed for everyday communication such as “yes”,”no”, “more” and “finished.”
Apps for Sentence Construction
- Alexicom AAC (iOS & Android): app that can be used as a stand-alone AAC system. You can create and edit grids using images from your gallery and then use synthesised speech to read aloud sentences and descriptions. The app supports switch access, scanning and bluetooth for remote access to the device. It also provides text-to-speech and word prediction.
- Sounding Board from Ablenet (iOS): app that provides pre-loaded communication boards with symbols and recorded messages to allow communication for those who have difficulty speaking. You can also create your own customised message boards. This app can be accessed by switch scanning for those who cannot touch the screen.
Apps with Symbols and Text to Speech
- AutoVerbal (iOS): AAC app that allows you to communicate in three different ways. You can use built-in phrases which are divided into different categories, you can programme buttons to speak customised messages, or you can type words or sentences which can be spoken using text-to-speech.
- Sono Flex (iOS & Android): AAC vocabulary app that turns symbols into clear speech. App comes with 50 context vocabularies and 11,000 SymbolStix® symbols. The app can be customised and has a choice of voices.
- Prologue2Go (iOS): AAC app that allows you to create onscreen icons that you press to generate sentenceswhich are spoken aloud.
APPS FOR PEOPLE WITH ALZHEIMERS OR DEMENTIA
There is a range of apps available to help people with dementia live more independently, including medicine reminder apps, apps that alert a carer if the user falls or wanders as well as reminder apps that alert you to complete or undertake a task.
These apps remind you when your medication is due to be taken. Some of these apps provide an audible reminder when you need to take your medications, while others can provide a visual alert. Pill reminder apps will not work if your phone has no signal, if you put your phone on silent, if your phone’s battery runs out or if you do not have your phone with you.
- Pill Reminder (iOS): app that alerts you when you need to take your medicine or refill a prescription. The app has a range of audible alert sounds including an extra loud reminder which may be useful if someone has hearing difficulties. The app has a built-in database of medicines so you can also access information like dosage and side effects for your medication. It lets you add photos of your medication so it is easy to recognise even if the writing on the packets is small. The app also keeps a history of when medications are taken or missed.
- MedCoach (Android & iOS): app that helps you remember to take your medications and pills. You can set up multiple alarms, log the pills you have taken, and there are automatic reminders when you need to refill your prescription. The app links through to a medication database that provides information on medicines.
Fall Detection Apps
These apps are designed to alert a carer or family member if the user has fallen over.
- iFall (Android): app that uses the phone’s accelerometer (measures force and acceleration) and tries to detect when a fall has occurred. If a fall is detected, the user is issued a prompt which gives them a chance to clear if it is a false alert. If the alert times out without a user response, their emergency contact is called.
- Fall Alert (Android): app that triggers an alarm if you fall, sending an automatic SMS or phone call to your designated number. GPS coordinates will be attached in the SMS message. It is also possible to activate the function by pressing the ‘Panic’ button in the app.
- Fall Detection (iOS): app that uses the phone accelerometer to detect if you have a fall. If a fall is detected an email or text message is sent to your designated recipients, providing your GPS location and street address.
These apps are designed to alert a carer or family member if the user wanders off, becomes disorientated or gets lost.
- iWander (iOS & Android): an application that utilises GPS and other locating technologies to identify the location of smartphones on which the app is installed.
- It’s Done! (iOS): this reminder app helps confirm if you have completed tasks throughout the day. You tick ‘Done’ for each of your routine tasks, like locking the door, then later if you can not remember if you locked the door, the It’s Done! app confirms that the task has been completed. The app can also send a text message or email to others when a task is done, so family or carers can be at ease that the oven has been turned off etc.
APPS FOR PEOPLE WITH AUTISM & OTHER RELATED DISORDERS
There is a range of educational apps available for children with autism or developmental delays, which are detailed below. It can also be worthwhile looking through the App Store for the things that your child is interested in and use those apps as learning tools. For example, if your child is interested in trains, you could download a train timetable app to help them learn times etc.
There is a range of apps available to help people communicate independently. These include basic communication board type apps, where the user points at a picture on their device to explain what they want, right up to more advanced communication apps that construct sentences and have text-to-speech capabilities. See examples of some apps below. You can also find more communication apps in the Apps for People with Communication Difficulties section of this document.
- Grace (iOS): communication app designed to help people communicate their needs independently. The user selects pictures to form sentences which they then share by pointing at the card on the device to hear the listener read each word. The app does not use speech but is designed to encourage the user to attempt their own vocalisations. It comes with a basic vocabulary of pictures, but it can be fully customised using the device’s camera or images saved from the internet.
- Autism Speech Diego Says (Android): app designed to aid basic communication. The user pushes the action button ‘I want’ and then presses one of the next possible options for example ‘food’.
- iConverse (iOS): app with six display icons that represent a person’s most basic needs. When activated, the icons give an auditory and visual representation of the user’s specific need.
- First Then (iOS & Android): visual scheduling app that lets you create and display daily events or the steps needed to complete specific activities using images. The schedules can be customized to the needs of the individual.
- iPrompts (iOS & Android): visual scheduling app that allows you to display picture sequences to guide the user through different activities. Schedules can have many pictures, and captions can be edited for each image.
- Pocket Picture Planner (iOS): visual scheduling app that reminds you of daily events and tasks you need to complete. It provides information and instructions for each task. You can associate visual and audio media files with a task or event and the app also provides pop-up reminders when activities are due.
- Life Skills Winner Pro (iOS & Android): app that teaches life and social skills using positive feedback. It breaks down life skills into steps, for example brushing your hair. It emphasises the importance of the skill as well as incorporating an interactive aspect like using the touch screen to drag the brush across the character’s hair. These actions allow the user to earn designated points to collect and ‘cash in’ for a reward.
- iReward (iOS): app designed to reinforce a certain behaviour by providing motivation and a reward, for example, a gold star, a new toy etc.
- Easy Kid Tokens (Android): app that rewards good behaviour. The app has a behaviour chart with images representing the reward the child is working toward. The child receives ‘stickers’ or ‘tokens’ for good behaviour, receiving a reward when they reach the number of tokens needed. The app also plays music when the child has reached their reward.
Listening and Attention Apps
- Simon Says (iOS): attention and concentration app. The goal of the game is to remember the sequence of buttons selected and repeat them in the same order. You can choose from images of animals, cars, musical instruments, colours or shapes etc.
- Animal Memory (iOS & Android): concentration and matching app where you have to pair up pictures of animals. The game has a number of difficulty levels and the animals make noises to keep children entertained.
- Concentrate (iOS): app that displays work and breaktime in a graph on your device’s home-screen. This allows you to focus on your work and be efficient.
Cause and Effect Apps
- Cause and Effect Sensory Light Box (iOS & Android): app that provides visual effects when you press or sweep over the screen. The app encourages development and basic awareness of touches and gestures.
- Bubble Explode (iOS & Android): app that provides visual and auditory effects when you press the screen. The aim of the game is to explode the bubbles onscreen by touching them.
APPS FOR PEOPLE WITH MOBILITY DIFFICULTIES
Home Automation Apps
There is a range of home automation apps that allow you to control your environment using your smartphone or tablet. These apps are often part of a home automation system, so you need to ensure that your phone can ‘talk’ to the system or the device you want to operate remotely before downloading the app. Home automation means that you can turn on, for example, a light, the heating, or open the curtains remotely. To do this you have to set up an automation system in your house which allows these devices to be controlled by your phone through wifi, infrared etc. Alternatively you can use infrared/wifi sockets to allow your phone to communicate with, for example, a lamp or music system.
There are also an increasing number of apps for smartphones and tablets designed specifically for the mobility impaired. For example, the Open Sesameapp for Android devices uses computer vision technology to allow someone to access any app on their smartphone or tablet by simply moving their head. Users with limited use of their hands can Tweet, post to Facebook, send instant messages, make phone calls, or download any of the other millions of apps available use them touch-free.
The types of apps described in this document are just a taste of what is out there. It is worthwhile looking through the Apple and Android app stores for yourself to see what is available and what might be suitable for you. Often many of the mainstream apps and a device’s integral accessibility functionality can also greatly help someone with a disability in their daily life. If you are looking for advice on apps, take a look at some of the forums mentioned above or you can contact an occupational therapist, speech and language therapist or some of the organisations listed below.
Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)(UK charity providing advice and information and acomprehensive up-to-date database of disability equipment available in the UK)
Hammersmith Bridge Road
London W6 9EJ
Tel: 0044 207 289 6111
Ricability(independent research body in UK which produces guides for older and disabled consumersbased on professional research)
G03, The Wenlock
50-52 Wharf Road
Tel: 0044 207 427 2460
National High-Tech Assistive Technology Training Service
Tel: 01-218 4100
AbilityNet (AbilityNet UK helps people of any age and with any disability to use technology to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education.)
Tel: 0044 800 269 545