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Awards, apps and accessible mobiles

by Adrian Higginbotham

8th December 2010

In the first of two round-up articles for December, our Assistive Technology Correspondent Adrian Higginbotham takes a look at some of the latest high and low tech solutions for people with disabilities.
A PlayStation Portable
The PlayStation Portable was used by deaf people to conduct BSL conversations from afar.

And the award goes to ...

• The Jodi awards are handed out to Britain’s cultural sector for best use of digital technology to enable access to information, collections and learning; they are run by the Jodi Mattes trust

This year's results show disabled audiences benefiting from mainstream technology innovations. Deaf access did particularly well.

This community is no stranger to technology. Deaf people tended to be among the earliest adoptors of SMS text messaging, and have made good use of the Sony PlayStation Portable, whose camera add-on with fast speed and high resolution, made it better than many other video call systems for conducting signed conversations from afar. Society at large, though, has been slower in applying technology to the British Sign Language communication barrier. If the Jodi award winners are anything to go by, that is now changing.

Over half of the 2010 shortlist was made up of projects which aim to improve access for deaf people to cultural collections. One winner was the Historical Royal Palaces’ provision of visitor information in a series of creative in-character BSL videos on their website.

This year, for the first time, The Jodis included a category celebrating digital access for people with a learning disability. The winner in this section is a collaboration between the British dental association and learning disabled adults to produce a film on hygiene for primary School children.

See all of the shortlist, and this years winners (announced on 1 December) on the Jodi Awards website.

• But learning disability tech innovations aren’t specific to the UK, as this article about a free mobile application by technology company Fujitsu for children in Japan, shows. The app was designed for kids with learning disabilities. It includes elements to help with telling time, communication and hand writing. Fujitsu claims that, using the app’s picture card software, some testers “were able to change their own clothes or shop on their own” for the first time.

The idea behind the as yet un-named application, isn’t that different from those already being put in place in some special schools here in the UK. But until our education system becomes more willing to accept that mobile phones can be a helpful tool rather than just a distraction, it’s unlikely that commercial organisations will get involved to the same extent in this country.
An image from the TouchTalk iPhone app.

Access technology gets it's own online app store

• If you’re a user of an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, then you might be interested to hear that Apple has gathered lots of titles of interest to disabled people in one new area of it’s apps store. Some were created to solve access difficulties, others just happen to be particularly suitable or helpful.

They’ve badged it the Special Educational Needs category but don’t let the name put you off. Few of the entries are educational - although they certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a classroom. As to whether they're 'special'? Well, you decide.

Here are three of my personal highlights.

1. Guided Photo Pro: If you’re like me and are forever taking pictures of people with no heads, or missing the subject out of your snap altogether, this app will give you spoken directions to get the perfect shot. It's designed for taking a photo of yourself, so you’ll need to do the opposite of what the voice tells you when taking a picture of someone else. But if you know your left from your right it’s jolly useful.

2. TouchTalk: This one's for people with sight and hearing loss. Tap and swipe the screen using a
modified Deafblind Manual alphabet and display the translated message or question for others to read. The developers are keen to point out that this app is in it’s infancy and the ability to text and email will be added shortly.

3. Dasher for iPhone: This app brings together text prediction, gesture based input and an innovative interface. Particularly handy for those of us who find using a touch screen difficult.
Tilt and shake your phone to type messages, for instance. It's an alternative to a keyboard and you have to use it to appreciate its value.
A mobile phone with a large screen

New Website completes the online mobile phone accessibility toolkit

Mid November saw the launch of a new information service on access technology for mobile phones. MobileAccess.org allows the consumer to find a phone that is as smart or as basic as required, and which meets an individual’s access needs.

It's still a relatively complicated journey to finding what's best for you but the new site helps.

When looking for an accessible moby in future, my advice would be to first go to another website with a similar name of MobileAccessibility.info, to search by disability, or phone features.

Then visit this community-based newcomer Mobileaccess.org to find out from fellow disabled phone users whether the suggested device works with all the additional assistive technologies, software and apps that you rely on for work rest and play. The site also includes a user community, blog and podcasts.

When you're ready to buy, it's over to industry regulator approved BillMonitor.com to find the best deal on a pay-as-you-go package or contract.

Now all that's left is to go back to MobileAccess.org to watch industry news and dream about what you might be buying next time around.

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