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Assistive Technology on iOS

Posted by Rob LeFebvre on July 1st, 2011

Until the release of the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, users with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities relied on either dedicated devices or arcane, varying-quality software on PCs or Macs to get the support they needed to go about their daily lives in school, at work, or at home. Devices such as a Dynavox or even the popular Tango (developed by members of the XBox team) cost in the thousands of dollars and require intense training and practice to modify for individual users. Screen reading software for the blind, such as JAWS for Windows standard edition, can cost close to $1000 per license.

It's small wonder that students and individuals with disabilities relied on special education and other social services systems to provide funding for them to receive such software and hardware, with long wait lists the norm rather than the exception. School staff and families struggle to learn the devices and software, only to find them updated and changing with every new release.

With iOS, users with disabilities and the people that support them now have single device that can replace many of the forms and functions of dedicated devices, much less expensively and with less of a learning curve. With the standard user interface standardized hardware of iOS devices, developers can create assistive technology solutions faster and with less expense, allowing apps them to be customized to individuals with disabilities with less training needed.

The accessibility features built right into iOS are a boon to users with visual disabilities, allowing oft-neglected consumers the chance to participate in current, cutting edge technology right out of the box. VoiceOver puts device, preference and app screen navigation in the hands of folks with vision impairments, and is baked right into the OS itself. Not all apps take advantage of the VoiceOver system, but many do, like Apple's own iBooks e-book app.

Users who need a communication device now have an incredibly less expensive alternative - an iPad and ProLoQuo2Go, an app that's exorbitant by app store standards, but dirt cheep when compared to similar dedicated devices, like the above mentioned Tango and Dynavox. Proloquo2Go provides users a full featured communication system with over 7000 symbol/word pair items, solid text-to-speech functionality, and an extremely intuitive system for creating personalized communication boards on the iPad itself. Priced at well under $200, Proloquo2Go puts high-end augmentative communication devices within the reach of many more families and individuals than ever before, considering that a Dynavox with similar features costs well into the $6,500 range.

Speech recognition is another tool that was originally developed for the disability community and has since made many of our lives that much easier. Dragon Dictation is the iOS incarnation of the best of class speech recognition technology out there, and comes in at the cost of FREE. Users simply speak the words they want to write, and Dragon Dictation does the rest, allowing users to send the resulting text via email, SMS, or copy to the device clipboard for other use. For users with issues in small motor skill use, or shaky hands, this app (along with a host of others) is a must have app.

That any developer can create an app with as wide or as narrow an appeal as is needed, and then get that app to people who will use it, has created a whole new era for people with disabilities as well as those of us who do not have them, yet. Bringing people who have been traditionally left behind in our culture along with us into the new era of user-centric technology not only benefits the individual users of such tech, but our society as a whole. This lets us learn to see users with disabilities as people first, disabilities second.

OneVoice for iPad Gives Others a Voice

Posted by Bonnie Eisenman on April 11th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Most uses for the iPad are purely recreational: watching movies, checking email, playing Angry Birds. However, some apps are far more than just entertaining, or even useful—some apps have the potential to create real, meaningful change in their users' lives. OneVoice aims to be such an app. An iPad app that focuses on simplicity and usability, OneVoice is an "augmented communication app" that speaks for its users.

OneVoice lets users either select from a display of icons or type in words to form sentences and phrases, and then speaks the words aloud. Thus, OneVoice allows its users to "speak" by tapping out their desired phrases. The developers intended for it to help people with communication disabilities, whether those disabilities were caused by stroke or traumatic brain injuries, autism, multiple sclerosis, or another cause.

The developers also cite the general clunkiness of most "augmented communication" apps and devices as a major source of inspiration for creating the app. By contrast, OneVoice tries to keep things simple and prizes usability over stuffing lots of functions into a complicated package. OneVoice also offers plenty of customization—users can select from different voices, add their own vocabulary, upload personal pictures and icons, and turn to the keyboard when they exhaust the icons.

OneVoice is available in the App Store for $199. That's significantly more than your average iPad app, but the developers are quick to stress that it's cheap considering the app's market:

Designer Nathan Barry of Legend was inspired to create the affordable, easy-to-use application after learning that many people affected by speech disabilities cannot afford the devices currently available on the market. At $199.99, OneVoice is significantly less expensive than similar devices, the most common of which cost many thousands of dollars. OneVoice can change the way people with speech disabilities interact with their families, friends, and the world around them.

It's always inspiring to see truly great uses of the iPad, and I think that this app qualifies as such. Most games and apps are geared towards entertainment or procrastination, but OneVoice has a much more meaningful goal. Be sure to watch the demo video to see the app in action.

Apple Lists 2010 Top Apps

Posted by Brad Hilderbrand on December 9th, 2010

As the year winds down and we look ahead to the next decade it's time for all those wonderful end-of-year lists we all get so excited about. Today we have some exciting news, as Apple has detailed all the top paid and free apps for the iPhone and iPad, as well as the top grossing apps on each platform. Here's the full rundown, for your edification.

Top 10 Paid iPhone Apps

1. Angry Birds
2. Doodle Jump
3. Skee-Ball
4. Bejeweled 2 + Blitz
5. Fruit Ninja
6. Cut the Rope
8. The Moron Test
9. Plants vs. Zombies
10. Pocket God

Top 10 Free iPhone Apps

1. Facebook
2. Angry Birds Lite
3. Words With Friends Free
4. Skype
5. Tap Tap Revenge 3
6. The Weather Channel®
7. Paper Toss
8. Bing
10. Talking Tom Cat

Top 10 Grossing iPhone Apps

1. MLB.com At Bat 2010
2. Angry Birds
3. Call of Duty: Zombies
4. Bejeweled 2 + Blitz
5. FriendCaller 3 Pro
6. Zombie Farm
7. TomTom U.S.A.
9. Plants vs. Zombies
10. Doodle Jump

REad even MORE lists after the jump.