In the past, technology for the differently-abled centered around wheelchair accessible vans and Braille keyboards. As mobile technology has grown, so have the options for those who need more assistance. Today, iPhones and other mobile devices can be loaded with apps to help those with disabilities access the services and technologies they need. While mobility and the ability to read are still important for the disabled, technology can help people become more independent and interact more easily with the world.
How does mobile technology and touchscreen capability work for someone who has a vision impairment? Up until recently, not very well. These individuals had to rely on Braille or other touch-based keypads to simply access their mobile technology.
Medical researchers and technology gurus have changed this with the introduction of voice-driven applications that allow those with vision impairments to use touch-based technology. For example, programs like Slide Rule, developed by the University of Washington, give vision impaired users audio feedback when they touch the screen, allowing them to independently find applications and use a touchscreen mobile device as easily as a sighted person would.
Sometimes, apps designed for disabled individuals offer ways to make life just a little easier. For example, a free iPhone app called Parking Mobility utilizes the iPhone’s GPS system to help those who need disabled parking spaces find one near their current location. The app also allows you to leave notes for other travelers if you find a spot that is not currently listed. If you come to a space that’s occupied by someone who’s ineligble to park there, you can report them using the app.
The iPhone also offers the SoundAMP Life. This free app for the iTouch, turns the iPhone into a listening device. Using the phone’s ear buds, someone who is hearing impaired can set it up to amplify the sounds around them, and discretely continue listening to their friend or the speaker at a lecture. The app can be customized to adjust for varying levels of hearing loss.
Not all of the technological changes have been apps or software. UT San Diego reports that some simple changes have made life much easier for individuals with disabilities. For instance, Google has a vision impaired research scientist on its team who’s developed accessibility tools in Android mobile devices that allow addresses and contact information to be read to the user when running Google Maps.
Some people need help using modern technology without the use of their hands. They can see perfectly well, but they have limited mobility and can’t use a mouse, touchscreen or keyboard. Technological advances are helping these individuals too. Take the Eye-Pro GS Eyegaze, for instance; this three-year-old system allows the user to move the cursor using just her eyes. Blinking or staring at the icon performs the same function as clicking a mouse.
For those living with a disability, technology is making life easier on an almost daily basis. As researchers continue to develop apps and hardware to make modern technology accessible for all, those who can utilize these benefits are going to continue finding new options available for them to access the latest technological breakthroughs, all while continuing to strive to live independently in spite of their disabilities.