One of the major topics at this year’s M-Enabling Summit was the issue of making the Internet accessible. When you think about it, it’s inherently a difficult obstacle to overcome. The Internet was designed to run on a computer. Able-bodied people use their eyes to see what’s on the screen. Their fingers to manipulate the keyboard and mouse, their hearing to listen to the audio. But what about those who have impairments to some or all of those senses? That was the topic of a number of panels at M-Enabling, and the focus of a number of companies that were exhibiting. We’ll take a look at what some of them are trying to accomplish.
While Google/Android and Microsoft all have accessibility features in their operating systems, Apple has (in our opinion) done the best job in making their devices accessible for both vision and hearing impaired. Now Apple is getting ready to bring out a major upgrade to iOS, its operating system for iPhone and iPad. At M-Enabling, Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s Senior Manager for Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives outlined some of the new accessibility features being planned for iOS 11, expected out this fall.
—Redesigned Invert Colors: While using Invert Colors, media content and images won’t invert with the rest of the screen making them easier to view
—VoiceOver descriptions for images: With images, three fingers tap to have VoiceOver describe what’s there. VoiceOver can detect text that’s embedded in an image, even if it hasn’t been annotated. Or it can also tell you whether a photo contains a tree, a dog, or four faces with smiles.
—Expanded Braille Editing: Using a Braille display with Apple devices–now including Apple TV–is easier than ever. Your display shows you the text you’re editing in context, and your edits are seamlessly converted into Braille and printed text. You can also customize the actions that your Braille display performs on your Apple device.
—Spoken/Brailled Captions for videos: Delivers closed caption content orally or in Braille to provide additional context for VoiceOver users
—Improved PDF support including access to forms: Tagged PDFs now receive support for reading detailed information such as tables and lists
—Type to Siri for Accessibility: Supports basic search queries for those who prefer to type to interact with their device
—Highlight Colors in Speak Selection and Speak Screen: You can now customize the colors that your iOS device uses when highlighting text with Speak Selection and Speak Screen.
—Switch Control typing: It’s easier than ever to type with Switch Control. Get access to more predictions, so that you can scan and type whole words at a time.
Proloquo2Go – This app offers a variety of symbol based keyboards which can be used to communicate by everyone from early learners, through those who are literate but have difficulty writing or speaking. The symbols can be connected to make complete, grammatically correct sentences, or simply convey a need or thought. When the user pushes the symbol, the text-to-speech engine speaks it aloud. Proloquo2Go offers natural-sounding Text to Speech voices in English (American, British, Australian and Indian), Spanish and French, including genuine children’s voices and specialty voices.
Proloquo4Text – This is a text-based communication app that gives a voice to literate people who cannot speak. It will speak using single screen access to words, phrases, and keyboard. It can reduce typing with self-learning word prediction. It will let the user type once and say it again with history and sentence prediction, and it can create blocks of conversations that the user can switch between.
Keedogo is a series of keyboards ideal for early learners, or others with learning disabilities or visual impairments. Keedogo makes it easy to type in any app. Among the choices are keyboards with large letters, bright colors, and color differentiated vowels and consonants. The keyboards also offer a predictive mode which can speed up typing.
KeyStrokes – This app allows users to create their own custom on-screen keyboards, making it easy to use devices without traditional physical keyboards. This is available for the Mac OS.
CyberTimez – This company creates software for both the visually impaired and the hearing impaired that is designed to run on existing hardware platforms. In both cases, CyberTimez will sell either the software alone or the complete bundle.
Cyber-Eyez – This is a low vision application designed to run on Vuzix SmartGlasses. It provides the capability for users to have any text in their environment read to them in real time using simple voice commands. Using a high definition camera and an optical character recognition engine, Cyber Eyez provides highly accurate text recognition read to the user through the smart glasses maintaining their privacy. Low-vision users can take advantage of the real-time magnification capabilities to zoom in on anything with up to 15 times magnification. Watch TV, read restaurant menus, recognize faces from across the room all in an easy to use real-time display. Among its features:
- Voice Controlled
- Full Android Device
- includes Bluetooth Headset
- Does fast Optical Character Recognitions
- Does not require a cellular or wi-fi connection
- Does Text-to-speech
- Web Browsing
- Magnification up to 15X
Cyber Earz – This can be purchased either with a hardware bundle including an Android wearable smartwatch or as separate software. It provides greater independence for the deaf, hard of hearing and sufferers of high-frequency hearing loss. Cyber Earz is an application that runs on a phone or tablet and is paired with a smartwatch to provide real-time alerts when devices in their environment need their attention. Once the app is configured, it “listens” constantly for the desired sounds and when detected, immediately sends an alert to the smart watch causing it to vibrate, light up and notify the wearer of the device that needs their attention. For “critical” devices (like smoke detectors”), alerts are also sent to family members, care takers, building managers, anyone that needs to know the smoke detector is going off.