Assistive Technologies - Go Ahead. Make Your Life Easier.

By the time he was 50, it was obvious my brother had a hearing loss.

Maybe decades of working around heavy equipment assaulted his hearing.  Maybe he attended too many rock concerts and sat too close to the speakers.  Maybe it's just part of aging.

Our mother suggested he get evaluated for hearing aids, but Bruce wouldn't hear of it.

He said he could compensate.  Besides, he didn't want to look "old."

Needing an assistive device to do something you used to be able to do on your own can seem daunting, but the trepidation is usually short-lived.

I wasn't enthused about getting my first pair of eyeglasses in the sixth grade, but finally being able to see the world clearly made me forget concerns about how I looked to others.

Most of us are accustomed (or spoiled) by automation in our homes.  Programmable heating and cooling, automatic garage door openers, remote controls for TVs, and kitchen appliances are all assistive technologies, and nobody's embarrassed to use them.

These days, so much information and communication is virtual and the tools to help us are digital.

Both IOS (Apple) and Android (Google) operating systems have built-in screen-readers (Voiceover and TalkBack, respectively) and magnification apps.  They sport other accessibility features too, that help users with limitations in vision, hearing and motor skills.  

More possibilities will debut this fall.  IOS 8 will be introducing a Braille, a gray-scale mode for colorblind users, improving its magnification feature (Zoom), and building in audio description on entertainment where that track is supplied.

Android L will allow users to invert and correct colors on the screen - features that will help people with low vision and color blindness.

Here's a look at a few popular applications (apps) in different categories that can help compensate for chronic, short-term or age-related disabilities.  They were featured in a webinar titled "High Quality Apps for Accessibility" by Jonathan Campbell, assistive technology specialist at the Minneapolis-based Pacer Center and Simon Technology Center, which is dedicated to making the benefits of technology more accessible to people with disabilities.  

Reading (Text-to-Speech)

  • Read2Go (IOS) 
  • Go Read (Android)
  • Voice Dream Reader 
  • EZPDF (reads PDF files, which are not readable by most screen readers)

Reading (Digital Book Players)

  • iBooks (IOS) 
  • Kindle (Amazon) Newer models have accessibility features
  • Nook (Barnes & Noble)
  • Blio (Kurzweil Technologies)

Writing

Apps with word prediction features that guess what you're typing, which allows you select the word you want from a list without having to type the whole word.

  • Fleksy
  • iReadWrite
  • Co:Writer App

App that allows you to type without repeated tapping

  • Swype

App that records audio as you type notes, and allows you to bookmark important information to find that audio fast

  • AudioNote

Vision

  • TapTapSee (Snap a photo, uploads to a server, then provides an audio description of that image)

Communication (Picture/Symbol Systems)

  • Proloquo2Go
  • Tobii Sono Flex
  • LAMP Words for Life
  • Speak for Yourself
  • My First AAC

Campbell also recommended some apps that help people remember, organize and manage tasks.  Notes and reminders can be written, spoken, or given as pictures.  Popular accessible organizational apps are:

  • Wunderlist
  • Evernote
  • Any.do

Many of these apps - like other assistive technologies - are conveniences for the disabled and able-bodied alike.

I sometimes use the Voiceover feature on my iPad to have technical journals read to me aloud.  It's just easier than plowing through multiple-page articles published in tiny type.

And I don't even want to imagine how I would function without Evernote.  it's how I remember what I remember.

Are Voiceover, Evernote and my eyeglasses signs that I'm getting old and "losing it"?

Maybe.  But I don't care as long as they help me function.

Do you hear that, brother?

Written By Kym Reinstadler