Gadgets - Sep 9, 2016

Innovative Enabling Technology

How assistive tech can help smooth the way for people with various physical challenges

Photo courtesy of BeMyEyes.org
Photo courtesy of BeMyEyes.org

More than a billion people around the world live with some form of disability, and more than half of them are unemployed. Life can be challenging and downright frustrating, but thankfully innovative new tech solutions can ease the strain for those with vision, audio, speech and mobility issues. Here are some of the more intriguing ways.

For Vision

Apple’s VoiceOver, which comes preloaded on all iOS and OS X devices, converts text to speech in over 30 languages, guiding you through menu options, describing what’s under your finger on the trackpad, how to access commands, navigate the Web or scan a document via the rotor. It even tells you how to activate a button using the keyboard or trackpad. VoiceOver also supports plug-and-play for Braille displays.

Be My Eyes is a free iOS app that connects the visually impaired with sighted volunteers, via video chat, who then lend their eyes to see or read whatever the non-sighted person has pointed his or her camera at.

Google TalkBack, preinstalled on most Android devices, allows you to hear a description of everything you touch on the screen by running your finger over any option.

For Audio

Mac’s Made for iPhone hearing aid pairs with your iOS device for amplified audio and other features, such as an audiologist’s presets and Live Listen for clearer conversations in loud environments.

HearYouNow is for those who are hard of hearing but don’t yet need hearing aids. The app customizes sound depending on the situation – restaurants or parties, watching TV or listening to the radio – by optimizing foreground and background sounds.

For Speech

For those with autism, Down syndrome or various speech challenges, Proloquo2Go uses symbols and icons to communicate needs, wants and actions.

AutisMate is an iPad app that lets you customize content to your own skills and knowledge, with options to expand as you progress through learning stages.

For Mobility

Developed by Gal Sont, who has ALS, Click2Speak allows others with mobility challenges to communicate using an onscreen keyboard. The PC-accessible software uses the Android SwiftKey prediction feature for better speed and accuracy. You can use the eye-tracking camera, head-movement tracker, touchscreen and a regular or specialized mouse to issue commands.

Keeble for iOS replaces a standard onscreen keyboard in any app with a more user-friendly, customizable keyboard for those with fine motor challenges.

Apple’s AssistiveTouch, built in on iOS and Android devices, features a white circle on your screen that, when tapped, produces a palette with options for motions and gestures with the use of a single finger or a stylus between your teeth. You can rotate or lock the screen, adjust the volume, mute or shake to undo typing. You can even customize your own gestures.