iOS Devices as Assistive Technology – an Introduction

iOSTitleThe world of Assistive Technology is changing so fast, it is often hard to keep up!  Even for someone like me who is constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve of what is available in the world of technology for people with disabilities, I find myself discovering new solutions every day!

This is an exciting and challenging time in the Assistive Technology industry.  There are more and more companies that are incorporating accessibility and universal design into their products – which is GREAT!  But, something that I have seen is that the value of the assistive technology professional is sometimes being overlooked.  Often people are not even aware of the accessibility or universal design features that are available to them, or how to use them to their maximum benefit.  (Look for a future newsletter on the accessibility features built into iOS devices.)  Also, I see clients (or well meaning friends and relatives) spending their hard earned money on the latest and greatest item, assuming that it will be the solution to all of their friend or loved one’s problems.  But, as we all must remind ourselves, technology is simply a tool to achieve a goal.   Just because something is new and helps lots of people, does not mean that it will help YOU with YOUR needs.  This is where a knowledgeable assistive technology professional comes into play to help clients identify their goals and find the best solution to fit that goal.  The solution could be a $2.99 app or it might be a $2000 dedicated device.

To illustrate my point, I came across a recent blog post that detailed a protocol for choosing apps – click here.  This article gives a great step by step process, and shows that it takes an investment in time and technical knowledge to get the right “App for That.”

I could go on and on about this, but I want to get to the fun stuff!  The focus of this post is to share some of my favorite iOS apps and accessories that I have recently been recommending for clients.  This post is not meant to be an exhaustive or conclusive list – just the items that I have been recommending and finding useful.  If you have a favorite app or accessory – please share in the comments section below.

This post also is only discussing iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad).  Please note that some of the apps mentions are available cross mobile platform as well as applications on a full computer.

One area that I recommend iOS devices for is note taking.  I often have clients that cannot handle a laptop, but they are able to independently utilize a iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.  For a lot of people, their “on the go” needs are such that if they had the ability to access the web and take notes, they could leave their computer at home for completing the “heavy lifting” later.
AudioNote by Luminant Software
For a short video showing how this app works click here.
The main power of this app is that is syncs the audio being recorded and the notes being taken at the same time.  This is the only app that I am aware of that does this.  This app has obvious applications for students, but can also be helpful for those that have mobility impairments or cognitive impairments.  Those with mobility impairments can start the recording and just give themselves “breadcrumbs” to follow and reference the audio being recorded, reducing typing needed to take notes during a meeting.  People with cognitive impairments can use this app to record meetings and have a easy way to refer to the recording without having to focus on taking notes and listening to the speaker at the same time.  The “notes” can just be a single character or a symbol drawn at each important point to reference later.

inClass icon
This app is great for students that need their notes and assignments all in one place.  It can be a one-stop-app for assignment due dates, notes, and to do lists.  With regard to the note taking portion of the app, this app allows you to record audio, take written notes as well as add pictures all inside the note taking portion.

Notability App Icon
Notability by Ginger Labs
This app records audio and allows you to takes note at the same time.  It does not totally sync up the notes like AudioNote, but it has a lot more options for annotating your notes, such as highlighting, color choices, and adding photos, web clips, and sticky notes.  (iPad only)

NoteMaster App Icon
NoteMaster by Kabuki Vision
You can almost think of this app as a basic word processor.  This app has text formatting and the ability to add pictures and lists.  I find that a lot of my clients with traumatic brain injuries or other cognitive deficits take copious notes to jog their memories.  This app could be used to replace the slips of paper in an organized manner.  The files can also be searched!

Use Your Handwriting App Icon
Use Your Handwriting
For those that find typing on mobile devices frustrating, this app lets you quickly create organized lists by handwriting instead of typing.

First Then App Icon
First Then Visual Schedule by Good Karma Applications
This app was developed for children who need visual schedule prompts, and the app works exactly as described.  But, I have also recommended this app for adults that need help remembering steps to a task.  Another use that I have found for this app is as flash cards.  I have clients who have had traumatic brain injuries who need practice to remember items.  This app could be used to help someone remember faces and names, or other “flash card” type tasks.  To see a short demo of the app click here.

PDF Expert App Icon
PDF Expert by Readdle
How often do you need to sign and send something back to someone.  Well, a person with a mobility impairment may have great difficulty filling out paper forms or quickly signing documents and sending via email.  This app lets you do all of that and more without having to touch a piece of paper!

Another area where mobile devices can be very helpful is reminders and appointments.  But, I have found that for a lot of my clients, the steps to creating a calendar appointment in the built in app for iOS devices can be difficult.  For some people it is too many steps to remember, for others the physical dexterity needed is a problem.  Here are a couple apps that I like to address these issues.

VoCal App Icon
VoCal Voice Reminders by GZero
This app allows you to create reminders and calendar events that are a voice recording.  This eliminates a lot of typing for those with mobility or spelling difficulties.  Also, when the event time occurs, you can have the reminder play the audio that was recorded.  So, for those that would not remember to check their calendar, this can be helpful – the app simply plays back the recording at the set time.  For a short video demonstration click here.

Voice Brief App Icon
Voice Brief
This is a great app to simplify all of the great tools inside your smartphone.  This app can be customized to show you the content that you care about.  It can show you your next calendar events, the weather, emails, etc.  You can even create a custom sentence to tell you the time and date when you open the app.  All of the content is available via print and it reads all the content to you as well.  I recommend this app for clients that would have difficulty navigating multiple pages to quickly see their calendar appointments and other content and have it read to them.

Google Calendar Icon
Google Calendar
This is not technically an app, but I find myself recommending Google calendar to many of my clients.  Most people are unaware of the mobile setup available to allow you to create calendar events as well as get reminders for events all via text messages from your phone.  Google calendar is great for those that need to have multiple people accessing a calendar, such as spouses or coworkers, that all need to sync up their schedules.  You can register a mobile phone to your Google calendar account – for instructions click here.  This is a way to make a non-smartphone act smart.  Since you simply send text messages to make appointments on your Google calendar – click here to see what you can do via texts.  For total smartphone integration of Google calendar there are a couple other things that need to be setup, please contact us for more information on this.

I saved the best for last…
Talkler App Icon
Talkler is an AMAZING app that allows you to access email in many different ways.  If you have trouble positioning your device to see easily, with Talkler you can listen, manage, and respond to emails without ever having to look at the screen.  Or, if you like to see and hear your emails, Talker will read aloud your emails and you can follow along.  All functions can be performed with voice commands.  This app has applications for those with vision impairments, reading/spelling difficulties, mobility impairments, and cognitive disabilities.  I believe the app was developed to allow people to access email hands-free (like driving or cooking), but as soon as I saw this app, I recognized its usefulness for people with disabilities.

Again, this newsletter is not meant to detail every possible app that could be useful to those with disabilities, but just to give you a taste of what is available.  Also, most of these apps were not specifically developed for people with disabilities, but I feel that they have great application for assistive technology as well as for the general public.

I could do an entire separate newsletter on accessories for mobile devices, but I will restrain myself and just share a couple ideas here.

Securing and positioning mobile devices can be difficult, here is a favorite item to help with this:
Picture of Hand E Holder

This product helps give you a secure way to hold onto your mobile device.  This product also has a number of accessories, such as a desk stand, and leg strap that can be very helpful to people with disabilities.

For many people with limited hand use, using a stylus can dramatically improve ease of use and accuracy.  Here are some devices specifically designed for people with disabilities:
Picture of person in a wheelchair using a head stylus.
Head Pointer Stylus for those with no hand use.

Picture of Flexible Stylus
Flexible Stylus and other specialty designed stylus.
(Click picture above to see additional products.)

I would love to hear your ideas on this topic, leave your comments and/or suggestions below.