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App Accessibility: Are We at a Tipping Point?

Posted March 11th, 2011 by Pam Gregory

Everyone is always talking about some new app, and I simply can’t keep up!

Recently, I ran across something called the “iPhone App Directory.” The British magazine, now in its sixth issue, reviews, rates and lists download costs for apps.  I was curious to see how many of the 947 reviewed apps had potential for assisting with most disabilities, and I ended up very pleased and surprised.

Dare I say we might have reached the tipping point in technological universal design?  It seemed there were many apps that could be beneficial to people with cognitive disabilities, although interestingly, some of those were not user friendly and therefore not recommended.

It was refreshing to see the number of new educational apps that may help persons with learning disabilities.  Knowing that this magazine couldn’t cover all the new apps, I launched a search for similar magazines and found a good site that listed endless publications that also rate and compare new apps.

Here are some apps that I thought were particularly interesting.

  • D2u Transcriber provides dictation and transcription on a mobile phone.
  • SendStuffNow offers cloud-based storage.
  • Conf provides help for conference attendees by tracking each session, list speakers, lists panels/discussions, and even provides GPS to show how far away you are from each event (Note to self: Download for CSUN conference!).
  • ClearRecord Premium is an audio recording app that is able to suppress background noise.
  • Wallet Advanced manages your website logins, credit card info and other private information.  It has strong encryption so that this information is safe. 
  • Similarly, there is Password Keeper, which is a simple tool that stores your password and is also secure.
  • Flashcards App, teaches new vocabulary, then tests you, and even checks your daily progress.
  • Voice Cards are Not Flashcards!! allows you to create voice flash cards with an autoplay and shake option.
  • WordWarp (which I actually have) is a game where you create as many words as possible from a selection of letters.  If you’re stuck, just press the “warp” button and it will help you out. Also, a very useful game for persons with head injuries.
  • Pill Time reminds you to take your medications, and breaks up your medications by medication type, ailment concerned, dosage, frequency and the specific time of day.  It also provides a medication countdown, which counts what medicines you have taken, and what you have left to take in a day.
  • Living Well with Arthritis provides helpful tips to manage your arthritis.  This app was rated superior for usability.  It has many features, including routines, basic understanding of your type of arthritis and how it affects your body, and teaches how you can deal with your arthritis better.
  • iCanBass offers a guitar interface and allows you to pull strings.  This app made me think of Paul Schroeder of the American Foundation for the Blind, who is an avid guitar player.
  • Music For Users provides ambient music to affect your brainwaves.  This app has is programmed with certain tasks, which act as an “alarm” for project management.
  • LocateMeNow provides you with your location, and is user friendly and fast. If I had only had this when I first moved to DC!
  • MobileRSS gathers and manages your selected feeds and presents them in one place for easy monitoring.
  • Breaking News with Push delivers breaking news.  This reminds me of a story Al Sonnenstrahl, a life-long Deaf telecommunications advocate, told me of how, despite being in a car pool and working all morning  with colleagues, when RFK was shot after midnight in 1968, he had no idea. His deafness had pushed him out of the information loop..
  • PhotoDiary enables you to track your day with photographs, and allows you to add captions to the photos, and date and time-stamp the photo.  I would love to see user testing on how people with cognitive disabilities who need help with their daily routine could use this app!
  • PhotoMashup has great potential for people who are Deaf and to other visual learners by allowing you to arrange your photos, make montages, rotate, enlarge and move photos, and even provides the ability to include drop shadow and customize border colors.
  • iStuff is a highly visual method of managing tasks by providing 12 categories that are named based on time and function. It provides simple calendar views, an in-box for new tasks, tags to work on several tasks together, and overdue tasks, which require you to pay attention.  This task-management app is rich in features, and rated high on usability.  Another project management tool that is also highly rated is SideTacts, which integrates phone, e-mail and SMS into a single app.  It also provides audio, text and video notes, while continually synching with the basic apps on every off-the-shelf iPhone.
  • Easy Group Text allows you to group your contacts and text everyone in that group at the same time.  There is a similar app, GroupSMS!, which does the same for SMS.  Another app is FogHorn, which is a simple and user-friendly app that allows you to enter phone numbers for multiple people, and hold text chats where everyone sees all the messages.  FogHorn also allows you to store your chats, archive your chats online, and add extra information about the participants.
  • Today Screen can simplify your day by taking all of your appointments in the iPhone calendar, and putting them into a user-friendly view.  It even color codes past, present and future events;
  • 15,000 Useful Phrases is perfect for those whose English is a second language. It can provide assistance in the much needed gap between ESL and real English conversations--a great social skills app.
  • Lonely Planet San Francisco Guide is a one-stop resource for visiting a city. It is said to be even more helpful than a travel book and received rave reviews.  It includes detailed maps (online and offline). I personally love the Lonely Planet guides, and the San Francisco guide is just one of many cities offered.  Maptual allows you to view various points of interest on a map using the Open Street Map interface. Like Lonely Planet, Maptual provides information about cities all around the world.
  • Find A Pharmacy  will locate a pharmacy for you based on your geographic location, indicate how far the pharmacy is, and provides a Google Map to direct you to the pharmacy.
  • QuickPaste ranks very high on usability and allows you copy multiple records (the iPhone app limits you to one record at a time) for pasting into other apps. A good tool for everyone, especially for those with hand dexterity issues.
  • Pic-Z Tag is great for conference or meeting attendees, especially people with speech disabilities. It lets you design a name tag (templates provided).  When you meet someone new, you can just flash your iPhone to introduce yourself.
  • Ring Finger is a great speed dialing program that you can program time and automated calling.  For example, if you needed to call in to your job coach each day at 1:30 p.m., it will automatically connect you with your job coach at 1:30.

If you have used any of these apps and have found them to provide access, I would love to hear from you.  Also, I would love to hear from you about accessible apps that weren’t listed—it would be great to have one ongoing list of apps that have disability implications.

Are there any groups that are studying new apps for accessibility? If you’re an app developer, let me know if you are designing to include the 54 million Americans with disabilities.  My next step is to remember my password so I can download some new apps! Happy apping!

(Cross posted on Blogband. Please leave comments there.)

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers Developer Accessibility

Popular Science’s “100 Best Innovations of the Year”

Posted November 19th, 2010 by Pam Gregory

Geek Alert! Popular Science is out with its annual 100 Best Innovations of the Year. Reliability cool any year, this year’s list is also notable for a number of innovations that stand to make technology more accessible and lives easier for the disabled.

A few of my personal favorites:

  • Prosthetic hands, by ProDigits, developed by roboticists that moved the electronics from the palm and put them into the fingers—such a leap forward that people can eventually type with their new hand.
  • Siri, a personal assistant app that uses natural-language speech recognition to carry out complex demands— “Make a reservation for four at Chef Geoff’s at 7pm Saturday night,” for example.
  • Google Goggles, an app that enables Web searches based on images captured by your smartphone.
  • The GE VSCAN, a mobile ultrasound machine about the size of a cell phone. Particularly interesting given that an estimated 500 million people will use mobile health apps by 2015.
  • The iPad (of course).
  • The ecoATM cell phone recycler, which lets you turn in your used handset and get paid for its value.
  • A wireless phone charging station — just place your phone on a pad!
  • Wikitude, an augmented reality browser that uses geo-location data to identify places, sites and buildings.
  • A telescope eye implant that can restore a “severe vision impairment” to a “moderate vision impairment.”
  • User-friendly crutches . Developed by Jeff Webber (who was on the team that designed Herman Millers Aeron chair), these fundamentally changing the shape of the crutch from a “T” to an “A” frame.
  • A Google search engine for television, which gathers metadata with keywords. It was developed on an open platform allowing developers to make more accessible television guides or even translate closed captioning, .
  • A crime-busting hardware attachment for the iPhone, which uses biometrics such as iris recognition, fingerprints, etc. Now police can take a photo of a suspect and use facial recognition software to match to those awful “WANTED” posters.
  • A wireless system for IPTV called WiDi, for wireless display.
  • A new diagnostic technology that allows Kenmore washer and dryers to send data to a technician over a phone line, and depending on the problem, the technician can talk you through the fix, or just send a repair person.
  • And finally, a new web language, HTML 5 that allows browsers to display video on a computer, phone, iPad, without having to install software such as Flash.

Alan Gregerman, author of Surrounded by Geniuses once said, “Like Benjamin Franklin, we have to stand in a storm to be truly inspired (or electrified)”. He could have been talking about just such a list. Onward and upward!

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Accessibility

The Gold Rush in Kansas

Posted November 19th, 2010 by Pam Gregory

They’re going for the gold in Kansas, with plans to make broadband available to everyone in the Sunflower State.

I recently was fortunate enough to witness this gold rush first-hand by attending the Kansas Broadband Summit, where current state of broadband deployment was discussed, as well as the plans for future deployment of broadband services. Stanley Adams, the broadband planning manager for the state’s Department of Commerce reported that Kansas received over $250 million in broadband deployment grants and loans from the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration (NTIA), which is part of the Department of Commerce and the Rural Utility Service (RUS), which is part of the Department of Agriculture. That’s a lot of amount of money for a smaller state, but Kansas has a significant rural population, and its leaders are aiming to make broadband available to all.

I learned a lot from the Kansan stakeholders who attended the conference. Their plan is comprehensive, covering everything from detailed mapping, to provider validation, and even adoption plans. And like any time you get a room of stakeholders engaged, new ideas were sparked on how to improve the plan. As an FCC staff person, it was a thrill for me to see and feel the excitement of a state actually implementing its broadband plan. And as with the beginnings of California’s gold rush in 1879, the new broadband gold rush in Kansas promises great benefits to the state citizenry . ,“From a business standpoint, it [broadband] means increased opportunities for entrepreneurship and new small-business development,” Kansas Lt. Governor Findley said. “How many entrepreneurs out there have the next big-idea, but have no way to share it?” Kansans know that broadband is just as valuable as gold, and know the wealth it can bring.

Stanley Adams and Duncan Friend, both Kansas employees leading their state’s broadband initiative, invited me to speak on a panel about disability access. They said that they wanted Kansas’ broadband to be accessible and usable to all of its citizens, especially Kansans with disabilities. The audience’s questions on accessible deployment were universally thoughtful and insightful—they all saw the importance of an accessible broadband plan and knew such a plan would collaterally help other populations, such as seniors, non-native English speakers, educational and medical institutions, and the business community. The panel was so popular that we gave a repeat presentation later that same day.

To implement its plan, Kansas has partnered with Connected Nation, a 501(c)(3) organization. Tom Feree, the chief operations officer of Connected Nation said, “We exist because we believe that states, communities, families and individuals can realize great economic and social advantages when we accelerate broadband availability in unserved areas and increase broadband use in all areas, rural and urban, alike.” His statement again reminded me of the promise of 1849 gold rush, which lead to the building of our nation’s railway system, which in some ways is being replaced by fiber optics today.

Kansas has prioritized Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs) such as K-12 schools, libraries, healthcare centers, public safety entities, colleges and universities and other government and non-governmental organizations. I can’t help but wonder how many of those “other” organizations are entities that serve people with disabilities. The chief technology officer of the Kansas School for the Deaf, Joe Oborny, attended knowing how much is at stake in Kansas’ broadband plan. The ability for students to use video for calls, video conferences with excellent teachers of the deaf, and to connect with the state and nation are critical to a successful educational institution.

As I look back on the conference, I am confident that the leadership will follow through with its commitment for an accessible broadband plan. The stakes are too high not to. Soon after my return to Washington, Kansas contacted me asking how to develop more partnerships with the disability community, which demonstrates to me that they mean what they say in Kansas: All Kansans will be able to access broadband. For that, I give them a gold medal.

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Accessibility
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Seeking Nominations for the Chairman’s AAA

Posted November 9th, 2010 by Pam Gregory

 At the July 19th event celebrating the anniversary of the ADA, Chairman Genachowski launched the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative and announced the establishment of the Chairman’s Awards for Advancement of Accessibility (or Chairman’s AAA).  The Chairman’s speech, "Empowering Americans with Disabilities Through Technology" was presented at the FCC’s Americans with Disabilities Act 20th Anniversary Celebration. The A&I Initiative and the Chairman’s AAA are based on recommendations in the National Broadband Plan.

The AAA Awards will be given to pioneers in accessibility and innovations.  Contenders could be individuals or organizations, public and/or private entities, academics, students, application developers, and represent mainstream or assistive technology industries.  In addition to recognizing the development of individual mainstream or assistive technologies introduced into the marketplace, the awards could also recognize other accessibility advancements, such as the development of standards or best practices that foster accessibility, or the development of a new consumer clearinghouse of disability-related products and services.  We also believe that teaching modules and tools that could help students learn universal design and other accessibility practices could be worthy of recognition.

The Chairman’s AAA is open to any individual or entity in the public or private sector.  This year, the product, service, technology, or practice must be available and promoted publicly until May 1, 2011.  In the future, we will consider available and publicly promoted advancements that occur during a 12 month period prior to the award’s announcement. 

We encourage individuals and entities to contact us with ideas and nominations, which can be self-nominations or for others.  We will be accepting guest blog posts and guest v-logs on this topic, and parties can also file nominations in CG Docket 10-100.  We will be forming an internal cross-bureau advisory group to review the nominations and advise the Chairman on the awards. Employees of the Commission and their families are not eligible for this competition.  For more information please contact me at AccessInfo [at] fcc [dot] gov.  The Chairman looks forward to hearing from you!

(This is cross-posted on Blogband. Please leave comments there.)

Posted in Office Of Chairman Accessibility
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The Power of Partnerships

Posted October 29th, 2010 by Pam Gregory

We had an inspiring couple of days in Colorado last week.  On October 21 in Westminister, we participated in the 10th Annual Coleman Institute Conference, entitled “All Together Now:  The Power of Partnerships in Cognitive Disability & Technology.” 

While at the conference, Pam announced that the FCC was partnering with the Coleman Institute and Raising the Floor, an international coalition of individuals and organizations who promote internet accessibility for people with disabilities, to launch a challenge to the public to submit short multimedia presentations on their visions of how cloud computing can create new opportunities.  The challenge, titled "Lifted by the Cloud: Visions of Cloud-Enhanced Accessibility" is the Commission’s first challenge using GSA’s new challenge.gov platform.  More information can be found here.  Preceding Pam’s announcement of the challenge, Elizabeth Lyle, Special Counsel for Innovation in the Wireless Bureau, gave remarks on “The National Broadband Plan and Access for People with Cognitive Disabilities.”

We also participated in a pre-conference workshop in Boulder on October 20, entitled “Implications of Cloud Computing for People with Cognitive Disabilities,” which was sponsored by the Coleman Institute and Silicon Flatirons.  Jamal participated on a panel on “Technical Opportunities and Commercial Infrastructure, including the Farther Future” and Elizabeth participated on a panel entitled “Legal and Regulatory Barriers to Accessibility Technology in the Cloud.”

The Power of Partnerships was truly an apt title – for both days.  The Coleman Institute and Silicon Flatirons created a powerful learning environment by bringing together people with disabilities, advocates, families, researchers, academics, developers, technologists, and policymakers – and we are happy that the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative could be a part of it!

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Accessibility
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