From the desks of Lisa Mathess, M.A., SHRM-CP, Lead Consultant, Motor Team and Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant/Technical Specialist
Many employers have enables the workplace so employees cam use iPhones, iPads, Androids, and other popular mobile devices within departmental networks. This move towards a mobile device policy for companies is a telling sign that more employers are ready to improve efficiency by allowing employees to become extremely mobile at work. The demand for mobile devices and their apps, application software, has reduced the demand for traditional size laptops, which can be cumbersome to move around. Today almost everyone has a mobile device. They can update a user on current weather and sports statistics and link a person to every social network available. These devices enable a user to connect to the internet faster than most computers and provide many channels of communication to co-workers, friends, and loved ones. These mobile devices do not stop there; with the thousands of apps available at the app store a user can now turn even a smart phone into a viable tool as an accommodation either in the workplace or for personal use. JAN provides information on all types of apps, including those that may be implemented as an alternative to rather expensive assistive technologies. A sample of these include:
- A Special Phone, iTunes, $ 0.99: This app makes the iPhone functional to those with vision impairments or fine motor limitations. Instead of a standard keyboard, you can pre-program the phone to dial someone based on the number of shakes you give it.
- Proloquo2Go, iTunes, $189.99: Targeted for those with speech impairments, this is a full service augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app. It enables users to select from thousands of symbols to serve as a text-to-speech communication device.
- iConverse, iTunes, $9.99: With its simplicity, this is targeted for people with speech impairments and young children. It is a simpler AAC app that comes with six basic everyday needs: Drink, Food, Bathroom, Sick, Break, and Help. In addition to the basics, you can program your own symbolism, which can be used to verbally communicate your needs/wants.
- iCommunicate, iTunes, $49.99: This app is very flexible in the way it can be personalized. It has features that enable individuals with speech impairments to communicate through the database's symbols or from photos on the user's camera roll. You can create story boards or visual cues that turn the text/symbols into audio output (which can also be personally recorded).
- Locabulary, iTunes, Free!: Another AAC type app, but with a twist. This has the database of moods, foods, and assistance symbols, but also has built in GPS enabled categories that are specific to the user's current location. For example, if the GPS sees you are near a Starbucks, it will add phrases such as "I would like a tall latte."
- TuneWiki, iTunes/Android Marketplace/Blackberry App World, Free!: This is a useful app that streams songs and videos with real-time lyrics on the screen.
- SoundAmp, iTunes, 4.99: This turns your iPhone into a hearing aid with its amplification capabilities. You can record real-time lectures and presentations and export them into computer. Not only could this be useful for the hearing impaired, but its recording functions could be used for learning disabilities and motor impairments.
- iSign, iTunes, $4.99: This is a reference, tutorial program that has over 800 American Sign Language gestures. This may help break down communication barriers between those who primarily sign and those who do not.
- Glucose Buddy, iTunes, Free!: Mainly can be used as a data storage device; you can track exercise, insulin, carbohydrate consumption, and glucose numbers.
- Community Sidekick, iTunes, $0.99: This app can be used by an people with an array of disabilities, from developmental disabilities to cognitive issues. It tracks a person's location by sending out an e-mail every so often to assigned contacts, letting them know exact coordinates of the individual. Once the individual is safe at home, he/she ends the app, which sends out a final e-mail alerting the contacts that he/she has made it home.
The above apps are just a few of the hundreds available that could be used by individuals with disabilities or the people close to them. These apps can be used in the work setting or in one's personal life. Although most of the above apps are primarily used for Apple products, there are very similar apps that can be used on Android and Blackberry products -- just one more nifty use for those beloved smart phones and other mobile devices.
Remember that apps can be an excellent solution when concerns turn to the cost of an accommodation. While employers fear making an accommodation investment that is not guaranteed to solve the issue, employees may be reluctant to request an accommodation that will pose a financial burden to employers. Add the ever-changing and updating technology spin to the accommodation issue, and the result is often more strain on an already complex and stressful situation. JAN can help find an app that might be helpful in resolving that situation.
For additional information on the accessibility of apps developed for mobile devices, visit AppleVis. Here you can find user groups, recommendations, articles, and usability/accessibility ratings.