High tech, low cost AT

Here’s an entry from Meg at Easter Seals Central Texas.  It features AT in the form of iPad and iPhone apps and some helpful links.

I started feeling like every other article I was reading about AT was about the accessibility of iPads and iPhones. I decided to test out a few of the free app offerings for the iPhone to see what all the fuss was about. Below are some high tech, [relatively] low cost options for AT for the iPhone and for computers.

For the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad:

Purple VRS– uses iDevice with ‘face time’ (camera on the front) to make calls to people who are hearing impaired. I couldn’t test any of the VRS softwares, but from the comments and ratings, Purple VRS looked like the best choice.

ZVRS– works basically the same as Purple VRS except that you must be registered with ZVRS, and you must be connected to WiFi. (the former is what lost this app the most points)

Sorenson video center– use this to check your Sign Mail on your Sorenson video phone when you’re on the go

Sorenson Buzz Cards– made to help people who are deaf communicate with those who don’t know ASL. It allows users to create commonly used cards such as “Where’s the restroom,” easily editable templates, and new cards on the spot. Users can organize the cards by categories. This app had really great ratings. Obviously, it could be useful to any individuals who cannot communicate aloud because of a disability, or even those who have language barriers. It comes with key phrases already categorized, and you can add new categories and new cards.

SoundAMP (lite)– Is really cool. The title is pretty self-explanatory, it just amplifies sound through the mic on the iDevice, and you listen to it amplified through your headphones. It has a few options- you can control volume, boost high frequencies, and set filtering for inside or outside. With the paid apps (there are two) you get more control over background noise and frequency filtering, as well as the ability to record with one of them. A recordable hearing aid for less than $5! (I mean, plus the price of your phone or what-have-you. But since average hearing aids cost $1000-$4000, it may be a good option for those who don’t need much of a boost, are waiting for a replacement, or those who have trouble affording hearing aids) It’s also a plus for some people that it’s discreet; having an ear bud in while talking to people is nothing out of the ordinary. Also, might be a good app if you just really like eavesdropping.

ASL lite– pretty good descriptions of signs, clear drawings. Not too many words, but it may be good for learning basic phrases, or refreshing your memory. There is a quiz section, where you can test your knowledge. There are video dictionaries available, but they cost money.

Captionfish– finds movies nearby with captions

Tap to talk– could be good for children who need augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. It comes with built in phrases like “I have to go to the bathroom” and “I got scratched.” In order to get full use of it, you can get a subscription for $99 and create your own albums, and download others. Very intuitive app. I think it would be good as a secondary device or something, but the free version is pretty limited.

Alexicom– seems like a pretty cool system, but with a steeper learning curve than Tap to Talk. Alexicom is a subscription service ($28-40/month depending on a few factors) that allows people to build albums, create voices, etc. All a user’s information is stored on a server so it is accessible from any device. You can access it from phones, PCs, Macs, anything with a standard web browser… you can save pages to your device so that you can use it without an internet connection. But, as an app in itself, it’s kind of awkward. The albums that it comes with do not allow for putting together complete sentences, and are mostly just different types of food.

iBraille– I’m not entirely sure how often this would come in handy, but I had some fun playing with it. It is an English to Braille dictionary. You can type in a phrase using the English alphabet, and it will show you what the Braille version would look like. The Braille to English section seemed slightly more useful to me. It gives you a Braille cell that you can fill in for each character, and it shows you what it represents in Standard English. It may be useful for people who can see to learn Braille or translate a phrase.

Dragon Dictation– Is how I’ve been captioning the videos on YouTube since I discovered it! It takes about a minute or two of dictation at a time, and as long as you aren’t mumbling it’s reasonably accurate. For some words or phrases, it gives you options. For instance, if you said “light breeze” it may say “rice please.” You can tap “rice please” and select the alternate option, which may be “light breeze” if you’re lucky. If instead it says “right freeze,” you can just edit it with the keyboard. Once you’re finished dictating, you can send the text as an email, as a text message, or post it to facebook or twitter. It’s fully integrated so it comes up with your contacts and everything.

Vlingo– the free version of this allows you to say things like “Find Coffee shops in Austin” and it’ll bring up the map for you. Or, you can update your social networking sites by saying things like “facebook update: I need coffee now.” you can also do web searches and voice dial your contacts. Email and text dictation come with the paid app.

Siri– Siri is basically an entertainment booking app. You say something like “when is Kenny G coming to Houston?” It shows you dates and seats and you can book from there. You can also book restaurants, check movie times, events, find local businesses, set reminders, book taxis, check the weather, post to twitter, and more. Seems like a fast way to search for practical things for almost anyone.

Color ID– I would think this app would be more useful if it was limited to basic colors, unless you’re using it to find a color to paint your living room.  I just pointed it at my desk and got colors like “Royal blue, cherrywood, turmeric, lynch, Texas, and ebony.” I would think it would be more useful to say things like “Royal blue, dark red, yellow-orange, light yellow, beige, and black.” I read a review online from a person who is blind about how amazing it was. He could see some color and light, so it kind of made sense to me that he got so much out of it, but I’m not sure how useful it would be to someone who didn’t have many color associations. He did use it for finding his pumpkins in his garden, which I thought was pretty great (he looked for the sunny colors in the green.)

Big Magnify– uses the built in cameras to magnify things.1x-8x magnification. You can pause the camera so that you can read or what-have-you without worrying about shaking.

iBlissy litehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blissymbolics I don’t understand Blissymbols, but this seems like it could be a pretty good app for those who do.

Going Places– an app for children with autism. There are little photo stories where little kids talk about their day and each part of a specific sequence of events in everyday activities (getting hair cut, going to restaurant, etc)

NLC Autism– categorizing games for children with autism. There aren’t many games, but it could be fun.

Frog pad– I’m not entirely sure what the benefits of this app are. Frog pads are made with one handed keyboards, and the same keyboard is used on this app. The letters are slightly larger, but the normal iPhone keyboard is one handed. I suppose if you are used to a traditional one handed keyboard, the frogpad would be nice to take notes with.

Physio Ex– has a searchable database of exercises based on different spinal/neurological injuries. Types of exercise include: stretching, strength training, maintaining a seated position, transferring, moving to standing position, climbing stairs. Seems like a good app for people learning to live with a relatively new condition, or for those who may be helping them regain mobility.

Hippo LITE– Is sooo cool! You need a wifi connection to set up links with computers. You can use your device as a track pad mouse, and keyboard. Great for those with limited use of hands and fingers, or those in need of a one handed keyboard. (It was also great for me when I was sick the other day; I could just watch TV and movies on my computer from my bed on the other side of the room without getting up!)

There are also some free tests for hearing impairments, colorblindness, etc.

I’m sure this doesn’t ONLY apply to iPhones, etc, that’s just what I have in front of me. http://abilitynet.wetpaint.com/page/Smart+phones+and+Accessibility Here is a comparison of different smartphone’s accessibility features.


Here are links to two sites that have pretty comprehensive lists of free AT software:




http://librivox.org/ Free audio books. Every book here is in the public domain, so it’s full of a lot of classics.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/50-places-free-books-online.htm over 200 links to sites with free e-books and audio books.

http://speech.japplis.com/ – text to speech software

http://c4lpt.co.uk/recommended/top100-2010.html 100 e-learning tools for 2010


About assetamericorps

Team Leader for the ASSET*AmeriCorps program at Easter Seals Community and Housing Services
This entry was posted in Assistive Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to High tech, low cost AT

  1. Jackie Conerly says:

    Excellent job on the AT research! Great information!

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