Mobile Accessibility

A motorized wheelchair tray called, “RoboDesk” may help people with disabilities more easily handle mobile devices such as an iPad and overcome the limitations of tables and moving from the chair.

RoboDesk and other assistance technologies are being developed by Brad Duerstock, an associate professor of engineering practice in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Industrial Engineering, in the Purdue Institute for Accessible Science. Read more about RoboDesk.

A group of students with vision disabilities, participating in a summer enrichment program at the Carroll Center for the Blind, have been testing the Visus Visual Assist System by the Boston based Visus Technology. The Visus Visual Assist System is a wireless mobile system that takes advantage of the 4G LTE network and allows people who are blind and low vision to recognize faces, determine colors, and navigate their travel. It is expected to be ready for public use soon. Read more about students at Carroll Center for the Blind testing revolutionary technology.

Wireless CapTel by Sprint powered by Raketu is now available for all iOS powered devices. Wireless CapTel by Sprint gives real-time word-for-word captions of phone conversations. Now persons with hearing disabilities can read captions of conversations on the phone’s display when the call is connected to the CapTel service. Watch the YouTube Wireless CapTel video here.

I was interviewing the owner of a large web design firm on my radio show, Seacoast Business Connections and the topic of accessibility came up. As my guest was explaining to me that his firm makes a point of designing with accessibility in mind even if the client is not concerned with it, his twin boys, both of whom were born with cerebral palsy (CP), played in the lobby just on the other side of the studio’s large glass window.

Nuance announced yesterday that they have launched their new version of Dragon Mobile Assistant for Android. For users with difficulty using their hands to interact with touch screens – whether that is because their hands are busy doing something else like driving or carrying groceries or because they have a mobility impairment, this new app will allow users to ask questions as they would of SIRI on iOS (they can even launch the assistant without having to press a button), and they can also use speech to text and text to speech commands to perform some common functions. Users with mobility impairments have long used Dragon Naturally Speaking on the desktop to control the computer through speech but there was not a good equivalent for mobile. Sure, there is SIRI on iPhones and iPads and a few personal assistants apps but they are limited to speech commands and do not allow you to control the device and perform functions within an application. Dragon Mobile Assistant is a step in the right direction that allows you to control some applications, such as dialing, texting, launching your music, sending and responding to emails, checking the weather, and more. Dragon Mobile Assistant is compatible with all devices running Android OS 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) and higher.

On April 29, 2013 the FCC adopted released a Commission Document regarding Accessible Internet Browsers on Mobile Phones: “In this Second Report and Order, we implement section 718 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (Act), 1 which was added by section 104 of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA)2 to ensure that people with disabilities have access to emerging and innovative advanced communications technologies.”

Section 718 now requires mobile phone manufacturers and service providers to include accessible internet browsers when browsers are provided on the device.  There is overlap in the Section 718 and Section 718 requirements for accessible internet browser.  Additionally this document is an affirmation “that Internet browsers used for Advanced Communication Services (ACS), that are installed or included by ACS equipment manufacturers or providers, are software subject to section 716 of the Act.4.”

This reinforces work already done for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendment.  As browsers and web sites have been working to make the World Wide Web accessible to all users, there is now added strength to take the goal full circle to include ACS – otherwise known as smart phones and tablets and whatever wonderful new gadget is being invented in someone’s garage right now to carry the world in your pocket.

Amazon has updated their Kindle iOS application to make it easier to use for users with disabilities. Amazon currently has 1.8 million books in the Kindle store for the iPad and iPhone. It is great to see that this content is now available for all users.

The new features for blind and visually impaired users include:

  • VoiceOver support to allow users with visual impairements to have the books read aloud
  • Improved navigation within Kindle books
  • Searching for a book within a user's library or searching for text within a book
  • Adding and deleting notes, bookmarks and highlights
  • Facebook and Twitter sharing
  • Looking up word definitions
  • Ability to use iOS accessibility features, as well as peripheral braille displays

For more information, read Amazon's press release "Amazon Bringing New Accessibility Features to Free Kindle Reading Apps".

Barnes & Noble has been slow when it comes to the accessibility of its e-book platforms, but it has definitely made an effort with the latest release, version 3.3, of the NOOK application. Although the NOOK tablet device is still inaccessible to people with vision loss, the accessibility improvements in this application are worth an investigation.   The free NOOK application works with the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

The AFB article provides a description of how to use the app with information included about the accessibility of the various features and functions of the app.  Read the full article, A Guide to the Barnes & Noble NOOK App: Another Accessible Option for Reading Books on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad.


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