Category Archives: Accessibility Projects Portal

Tried and Tested Apps for iPhone and iPad

Here are a few iPhone and iPad apps that have been tried by Cheryl Dobbs, Aaron Smith and myself for the British Dyslexia Association.  Parts of this article have appeared in the Contact Magazine (May 2011).

If you would like to help us to build up a database of useful apps, comments on existing suggestions etc., just send an email to bdatech@btinternet.com. Please remember to include a note outlining why you found the app particularly useful.

Reading

Vod Lite (Free) A Daisy 2.02 reader with text to speech and highlighting. Total playing time is limited to 120 seconds. However, the full version (£15.49), allows unlimited playing.

Web Reader (£1.49 for iphone) and Web Reader HD (£2.99 for ipad) A text to speech application for reading any web page.

Speak it! Text to Speech (£1.49) A text to speech app which works by cutting and pasting text into the app. It comes with natural sounding speech synthesized voices but enhanced versions can also be purchased for an additional fee. Text can be highlighted as it is spoken but the keyboard needs to be displayed for this to function.

Comment: A useful utility with clear sounding speech – £0.59 for additional quality voices. I particularly liked the way the files can be saved as audio files and even emailed from within the application.

Blio (Free) Reads ebooks that are in the Blio bookstore with audio, customised fonts, colour backgrounds and images but also allows access to freely available ebooks and EPUB, PDF, or XPS formats, via iTunes or the web.

Comment:There are sample books available that offer an American voice and other voices can be purchased for £6.99 but not all books can be read with audio. If you have a PDF it will not reflow or allow access to VoiceOver for reading aloud but you can read it with white text on black and zoom in to enlarge the font.

CamScanner (Free*/+ £2.99/Pro £4.99) A portable scanner for your phone. It scans the document, whiteboard etc and saves as a pdf. You can either store this on your phone or, perhaps more usefully, send to email, Dropbox account etc N.B. The free version adds a watermark to the pdf.

Perfect OCR (£2.49): Use your phone to scan a document and convert to OCR. Save as a pdf or e-mail direct from the application.

Image to Text (free) This app allows the user to take a picture of some text which is then transcribed via Optical Character Recognition – saved as text and sent to others via email or read in the Evernote app.  Reading aloud can be achieved by using the built in VoiceOver.

Comments:Works quickly considering the OCR overhead and is accurate if there are clear fonts – filters out images and seems to cope relatively in the sunshine and with shiny surfaces – outputs basic text.  

Eye Reader (£1.49) This app allows the user to hold the phone over a page to magnify and illuminate text using the LED and camera. Not only is the text enlarged, but it can be read in the dark and is very easy to use. There are no set levels and the light automatically comes on when you launch the app. User settings are not available.

Comments: You need to hold the phone steady to get the clearest view and vary the distance to change magnification levels. It does not work so well for white text on black as the light causes reflections. Watch out for battery power with constant use!

Instapaper (£2.99) : A useful facility for saving and reading web documents to read when you are offline. The facility is installed as a bookmark. When browsing the web,  with one tap the document is instantly saved into the App for later access.

Comment: This is a useful facility for those using devices which are not 3G enabled. Items can be moved and saved into different folders.

Writing Support:

Dragon Dictation (Free) This is a lite version of the popular speech to text application but requires web access to function. Text can then be sent direct to sms, email, Facebook etc.

Comment: This app has surprising accuracy considering the fact that it does not require any “training” to use and is free. However, this version lacks text to speech (TTS) support which is a major issue for those with dyslexic difficulties. One possible way round this would be to copy the text into a third party TTS app such as Speak It! Maybe this is something Nuance could consider in a later paid version?

ZenTap Pro: (£1.99) This is an efficient text prediction software application from which emails, texts etc can be sent.

Comment: The layout of the keyboard in this allows for frequently used keys, such as punctuation, to be accessed from the top screen. An arrow key for moving around text – an option infuriatingly lacking in the main iPhone keyboard – is also available. Both of these options have made text production faster regardless of whether I make use of the prediction facility it was bought for.


iThoughts for iPhone and iThoughts HD for iPad. (£5.49) A mind mapping app. Can export directly to e-mail, Dropbox etc.

Writing and Drawing:

Pages (£6.99) This app provides a bite sized version of a range of word processing tools for both iphone and ipad.  A range of templates are included, shapes, tables and photos can be imported with a tap and documents saved or exported.

Comments: There are a range of note-taking apps around but this is a simple but elegant app which allows basic documents to be produced. Although documents can be directly exported to email, iTunes etc – the option to export directly to other facilities such as Dropbox etc would be useful. As a word processor, it is an easy product to learn to use but will await the time when a product appears on the market which might include an assistive toolbar providing facilities such  a spell checker and an easily accessible means of text to speech support.

Internet Search

Dragon Search (Free) Instead of typing in text when you want to search the Internet – just use speech.

Comment: again lack of text to speech facility but since the text required for a web search is limited this may not prove to be such an issue.

Google Search (free) Just speak into this app to search the internet (requires internet access).

Comment: this seems quicker than Opera and Safari browser searching and you can just say the words.  Sometimes the microphone goes mute and needs resetting.

Organisation

Dropbox (Free) If you use more than one computer you may have used Dropbox to save and move documents between them. The facility is now available as an App allowing you instant access to your documents wherever you have web access.

Comment: This facility is excellent not only for back up and sharing files but also for transferring files such as photos between e.g. ipad and computer without the need to sync. Additionally, it is also a means of being able to use TTS fairly simply with documents such as pdf, word etc. Transfer the document to Dropbox and then open it via Web Reader to hear the document read aloud.

 

Daily Reminders (Free/59p*): A very simple notification pad for daily tasks.

Comment: If you use Outlook efficiently then this app will seem very basic to you. However, it is this simplicity which makes it a really useful tool for setting reminders for the tasks you need to do each day and one day ahead.

Evernote (Free) A very easy to use web service that links notes from the computer and iPhone or iPad whether they are text, audio or images – store them on one machine and they will automatically update on your portable device.

Comment: Allows you to keep your jottings safe and organised into notebooks – they can be tagged and easily found again. Recordings can be made, photos taken and all can be shared via email – they are automatically dated and a location can be noted to help the memory!  The free Image to Text app automatically sends text files to Evernote that can be read with VoiceOver.

 

A collection of Study Strategy apps

I have collected  a series of open source, free, portable,  mobile online and commercial software programs that might help with studying – they are not specifically assistive technology items – this is where I like the idea of mainstreaming assistive technology!  The commercial  products mentioned, in particular the text to speech programs, tend to offer much more than just speech synthesis.  They have spell checker, note taking support, scanning and OCR, dictionaries and much more.  Therefore think of the commercial text to speech products as having features that should be included in many of the other slides!  Download a Study Strategy Technologies for HE Microsoft Word document version of the slides below to see the main points and web addresses.

Here are the slides that can be downloaded from SlideShare. They will be discussed on EASI Webinar on 23/02/2011.

AccessTools v2 – accessible menu for portable apps.

The latest version of the AccessTools Menu thanks to Chris Phethean who writes:

AccessTools menuThis year has seen a new version of the AccessTools menu system enter beta testing after another summer of development. It offers all the features of version 1 with the ability to tab through and use short cut keys for menu items, enlarge and change the font colours and background as well as launch programs directly from the pen drive without installation.  There is a new feature offering different languages and the ability to hide programs that are not required.  There are also easy links to Windows built in accessibility features such as the magnifier, onscreen keyboard and narrator text to speech.

In response to some issues which came to our attention during the testing of version 1 with regards to .NET runtime compatibility on older PCs, we decided to branch away from the original C# code and recreate the menu experience using Java. Whilst the Java program still requires a runtime environment to be installed on each machine, we are able to include this in the AccessTools package to be placed on the USB flashdrives. With the help of an open source tool, JSmooth, it was possible to wrap the Java Executable into a Windows .exe file, and in this process ensure that the Java Runtime placed on the USB drive will be used to launch the menu. At the cost of a slightly larger package size, this should ensure that most Windows PCs, whether they have Java installed already or not, will be able to run the menu.

Other issues were encountered with the Java version. Because Java programs run inside a virtual environment, getting them to communicate with the Windows Assistive Technologies is difficult. In order for screenreader use, the Java Access Bridge would need to be installed on any computer on which this functionality is required. Due to the portable nature of this project, this was not a suitable solution, and so we had to limit the visual appearance of this version (Java AWT was used instead of Swing, and the interface limited to mainly buttons).

Big improvements have been made under the hood of the new version of AccessTools. Due to the similarity of C# and Java, much of the code could be re-used with fairly small amounts of tweaking. This process allowed the previous code to be thoroughly reviewed, refined and improved, before any new code was even added to the system. The complicated nature of the downloader in Version 1, for example, has been simplified by ensuring that each application offered will be in the same format (a single zip file), which means we can offer a much more streamlined process of downloading and installing new applications.

Finally, we owe many thanks to Fx Software who have kindly allowed us to redistribute their software as part of this project. This means we can add this wide range of incredibly useful assistive technologies to the open source tools provided in version 1.

More technology strategies from RCAST, University of Tokyo

Pomera note takerDuring the week I have been introduced to students, eminent professors and company directors all the while seeing technologies being used in many different ways.  From a simple note taker called a Pomera that has a normal sized keyboard but folds into a pocket book sized device using SD cards and 2 AAA batteries to the latest Anoto digital pen used for research and assessments.

The Anoto pen captures writing on the specialist paper containing a gird of dots that allows the actual timing of writing and way the characters are made to be captured.  The data is transferred to the computer in XML format and used in Excel as well as specialist program that also has the video of the process allowing an analysis of the speed of writing from start to finish as well as the way each letter or character is written.  Anoto writingtransfer anoto files

This process allows for some very accurate assessments of handwriting skills both in schools and when using copying exercises in Psychology tests.

ihorn for quiet speechAs a Speech Therapist I was fascinated by a wonderfully simple ihorn – not an iphone app or speaker but a device for allowing a person who had lost their voice to be heard by someone else.

Finally, when it comes to portable scanning the little Fujitsu Scansnap copied a batch of papers for Optical Character Recognition and text to speech use in no time – straight onto an iPhone for listening to as an Mp3 file! fujitsu scansnap

Technologies abound at the New Education Expo 2010 in Tokyo

screen on cupboardA visit to Expo 2010 was a fascinating experience with the most beautiful wooden classroom furniture, learning aids and relaxation activities jostling for space amongst the very latest in cameras, scanners, visualisers, printers and software. The amount of pamphlets, shiny brochures and papers also made one realise the challenge  for Japan to develop digital text books for schools let alone developing text to speech that will read across the page, down the page, find the gaps for meaning and work out the differences that occur between over 6,000 characters, some which represent concepts and others that represent sounds.sample newspaper

Mitsumura Tosho Publishing Co Ltd had on show the most beautifully illustrated reading book that provided the student with not only the text version but a CD with real speech tracking the text, individual character support, dictionary and worksheets.   It was an example of the student being able to work independently through the book whereas many of the other digital books on show were for the teachers to work from whilst the children had the original paper based textbook.

There were many cameras and visualisers on show for use with white boards of all descriptions.  The one that caught my eye was a small inexpensive iPevo that could be used with zoom and various levels of colour contrast. Automatic focus and extremely portable and only requiring a USB computer connection.

The white or smart boards all tended to be of the fixed variety or on large stands but one system called the eBeam (available in UK) is very portable and could be fixed to most surfaces, linked to a laptop and provide many of the interactive opportunities offered by the larger boards.

blackboard screen for TVWhere schools have very large televisions there is the chance to turn them into blackboards – a little retro for some but it provides another opportunity for a hands on experience!  Izumi were offering this protective cover for very large screens.

There were little memo pads like the Boogie Board mentioned in the last post – the one that I would have liked was called the Mamemo TM1 and some amazing 3D camera technology.  I tried to capture a flavour of the 2D experience changing into a 3D.  The skeleton literally leapt out from the screen at all angles and it was hard to capture the result!  (well that is my excuse for my poor technololgy skills – the movie that resulted was 31MB so sorry only a picture of a static skeleton! ) skeleton

Thank you for beta testing the JISC TechDis Toolbar.

The JISC TechDis toolbar is out for beta testing and we would just like to thank all those who have been trying it out.  We are incredibly grateful to the folks who have contributed to the bug tracking.  Any new ideas and issues that have arisen are gratefully received.

We would also like to thank Steve Lee and OSS Watch for all their support with this our first open source project.  We have learnt so much about this community along the way and are now involved in two other open source projects – one for Computer Aid – building a magnifier for a pen drive and another very exciting application that will help those who have communication difficulties.

Garry Paxton has set up a Charitable Trust that is not only developing open source content in the form of the Mulberry symbol set to support those who have communication difficulties, but is now making it possible for Seb to develop an open source application for sharing it on the web – the project is called Picboard .

We will be revamping our Access technologies web pages next week to keep everyone updated on all the projects and LexDis is still open for more student strategies.  There is a quick screen cast of how you can add a lite version of the toobar to Internet Explorer.  Apologies for the poor sound quality… I need to replace my headset!

We have also created a button for the Toolbar that you can embed on your page to start the toolbar:

Toolbar Launcher

PNG format


Launch Toolbar

GIF format

Synote and LexDis cross the Atlantic once again!

Both Mike and E.A are heading off to the States this week to talk about the Synote, LexDis, and Web2Access.

As the press release says, Mike is “going to present the latest developments in his award-winning web-based Synote at a symposium at the IBM TJ Watson Research Centre, New York on Monday 9 November.

It will be the first time Synote will be shown with its additional ability to “synchronise live notes taken using Twitter with synchronised lecture recordings and transcripts created using IBM’s speech recognition software.”

E.A. is off to the 12th Annual Accessing Higher Ground – Accessible Media, Web and Technology Conference in Colorado on Thursday 12 November to show how Seb Skuse, Russell Newman and Chris Phethean have developed a suite of accessibility tools that can help to make access to the web easier. This work has come about as a result of the findings of the JISC funded LexDis project which, as someone said “refuses to die!” Students are still coming forward with new strategies for the way they cope with their “Technology Enhanced Learning” (to include e-learning and mobile learning) environments and E.A. is keen to continue with this work so that the database can be kept up to date with the latest ideas.

The press release ends by saying: “In her presentation, E.A. will highlight the need to enhance the knowledge of a wider network of ‘informal experts’ and academic staff to enable them to introduce disabled students to the many web-based tools which are currently emerging. This would allow disabled students to further develop their skills and perhaps in time also become informal experts who would be willing to share the strategies they have developed with others as can be seen on the LexDis website.”

Introducing The ECS Accessibility Projects Portal

We’ve been seeing more projects than usual in the ECS Accessibility Team, so we’ve decided it’s time to build a single point where anyone can get information on what we’re up to.

Intrepid domain explorers may have tried removing ‘/blog’ from this site, and stumbled upon our test version. We’re happy to say it’s all finished* now, so head over to access.ecs.soton.ac.uk and take a look! Comments are most welcome.

* ‘Finished’ is a relative term – expect graphical tweaks, compatibility fixes and other adjustments over the next few days…