Category Archives: web2access

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 Please remember to include a note outlining why you found the app particularly useful.


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.


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.


Free and Open Source Software to aid those with Visual Impairments

This blog comes from a talk given at the 4Sight Bradbury Centre in Sussex linking up our work with open innovation and open source Assistive Technologies on the JISC funded REALISE project as well as free software to access the web and a few links related to the use of mobile phones.

Portable USB Pen drives for use with Windows operating systems can run light weight programs with an accessible menu.  Examples are:

Accessible RSS News Reader
Accessible BBC iPlayer
Accessible Podcatcher
Accessible BBC Live Radio
Clock for time and reminders
Calendar for diary and events
Accessible Gutenberg Library for free books
Accessible Internet Radio Tuner
Accessible PDF for reading PDF files.
Internet Explorer Appearance Editor
Disk Explorer for working with files and folders.

More portable apps can be found on the JISC RSC NE Scotland site

Mobile phone apps are appearing all the time for Android phones such as eyes free, talkback & Digital Talking Timer.  The iPhone has built in accessibility features such as VoiceOver and  Zoom but there are many more apps such as  Eye Reader and Voice of Daisy etc.  There are blogs about Android Access and many more about the iPhone.

Nokia and Blackberry also have their accessibility sites.  Nokia phones use the Code Factory and Nuance systems of screen reading and magnification.  Blackberry uses Oratio and the freely available Clarity Theme.  There is also the mobile forums advice about phone option

Further Resources
Screen Magnifiers

Links for Print to Audio that provide free software include

Web Access options

  • Firefox – Fire Vox for web page reading aloud, Readability to remove clutter,
  • ATbar – a cross browser toolbar with text enlargement, colour, font and line spacing changes, text to speech, dictionary and spell checker.
  • Web2Access – to learn more about which interactive and social networking sites are accessible.
  • Webanywhere listen to web pages being read aloud just by adding your chosen web address to the edit box on the site.
  • RNIB Accessibility toolbar for Internet Explorer
  • LowBrowse for Firefox – delivers web pages in a text friendly way with text to speech options and colour, font changes etc.
  • Black Window freeware – Enhance visibility and reduce distractibility of other programs

If you have any ideas for programs that you think would help your use of the computer please add them to the ideas already being discussed on the JISC funded REALISE project

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.”

Summer Showcase '09

Friday saw the Learning Societies Lab’s annual Summer Showcase. In the Access Group, we decided to take this opportunity to show off all our projects. Chris Phethean, Seb Skuse and Russell Newman were speaking. E.A. was in Birmingham, so couldn’t make it.

Check out our presentation for all the details. Here is a PDF, 3MB:
Access Group 2009 Summer Showcase

Questions after each section highlighted some interesting possibilities for future development. Specifically:

  • Web2Access Validation Toolkit: Can part of the work of checking a site be performed by our server automatically, thus removing the need for a human to do it?
  • StudyBar Text-to-Speech: Could the server cache common sentences and/or websites? e.g. the BBC News site is likely to be a common request, so can we render it once then cache it?
  • Access Menu: Development of a package download service would allow users to add new programs to their pen drives and keep existing ones up to date.

Update on Web2Access criteria

In the last week we have had many discussions about the evaluation checks and criteria we have been using on Web2Access.  E-mails from Mary Jane Barnett from the University of North Texas have helped to highlight some issues that have been of concern… “I have wondered why some of the sites have such low ratings on the deaf/hard of hearing evaluation.”

The toolkit for evaluation is progressing well and we needed to make sure we had a fair cross section of evaluation checks for all disabilities.  Those who are deaf or have hearing impairments may have the most problems with media content online, but not being able to hear videos is very different from the issue of not being able to see the animation or scenes and yet we had both under the title of Multimedia.   A decision was made to divide this check into two separate tests: –

  • Do all pages with audio or audio/video features relevant to the content offer alternatives?    0=No chance to add alternatives.    1=Possible to add text summary (number of characters may be restricted)    2=Possible to add full text transcript    3=Possible to add captioning and a text transcript. Sign language seen as an option that will be commented on.
  • Do all pages with video /animation features without audio or complex scenes with verbal descriptions offer alternatives?    0=No chance to add alternatives.    1=Possible to add text summary (number of characters may be restricted)    2=Audio description or extended text description.    3=Extended audio description with text description

Mary Jane made a further comment about how we reach the final results and we had to admit that any ranking really was not very relevant with the percentages in place.  So this part of the evaluation will be removed.  The icons represent the four criteria for each test and are set out in line with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and our own experience and those of colleagues on web accessibility.

Each service is evaluated against the test criteria and how they impact on a range of disabilities.  Sadly there is no way of accounting for individual skills and use of assistive technology.  This is why we choose to evaluate using freely available screen readers that do not require the skills of more complex screen readers and we admit we are rather harsh with our marking .

Mary Jane Barnett is on the Advisory Committee for the Expanding Accessibility Project of the North Texas Regional Library System as an Independent Librarian/Consultant and has been amazingly helpful with all her comments.  Her final point was about making sure everyone knew what products, services or applications we were evaluating for accessibility.  Off the cuff I said: “We sometimes find different wikis or blogs are actually developed using the same service such as Word Press or Mediawiki so we tend to skip that sort of repetition.  We choose those applications that have a free version and avoid those that require downloading onto a personal computer.  Finally all the sites need to be truly interactive to qualify as Web 2.0 rather than Web 1.0.

Thank you Mary Jane for being such a wonderful critical friend!  See you at Accessing the Higher Ground Conference in November, when I shall be presenting on all our projects!   Please add comments folks!

Critical Friends provide helpful comments.

Over the last week Deb Viney, Ginny Stacey and Mary Eld have been kind enough to give up time to visit us and work with us on our projects as critical friends. We really are very grateful for this help.

The pen drive /memory stick / USB flash drive, (debate as to the best name!) with its accessible menu – is this for staff or students?  If both. what does each group  need in terms of applications and guides and how do we divide up the folders?  Should we be able to access the applications immediately without having to go through a series of folders or categories or does there need to be a tree structure?

When it comes to overall design – do we need logos for the applications and icons for some menu items as well as text which can be enlarged?   A decision was made to use a colour contrast calculator to stop bad colour combinations when users change text and background colours to suit their preferences.

The Study Bar update on the previous blog has covered many of the aspects discussed in our meetings.  It was felt that it was important to improve aspects of the text to speech, as decisions about the items to be added to the tool bar had largely been dealt with by comparing the bar to the JISC TechDis User Preferences toolbar.

Web2Access walk-through to check the criteria has been completed, but it was clear that when discussing aspects of the evaluation for Web 2.0 services, there needs to be a considerable amount of support for some people.  The issue of who was going to use the site arose and what were the criteria for our choice of Web 2.0 applications – this needs to be added to the site!  Perhaps we could say services chosen should:

  • allow for interactions.
  • have no download requirements
  • offer free access not just a free trial.

A visit to Jane Hart’s Social Media toolkit provide more ideas for which Web 2.0 applications are used in elearning situations as well as other tools for learning.

The search facility has been added to each page on the Web2Access website and the anomalies that have arisen with the scoring are under discussion with the realisation that listing all those that have identical results is not very helpful.

A question was raised as to how the percentages were worked out.  It was noted that the criteria for the tests provide the results not how accessible the site is for a particular disability against another disability or application.  A phrase to explain this issue and the ongoing debate about the scoring and how it is illustrated is on the list of tasks to be completed!

Our explanation of Web 2.0 needs to be expanded and for whom the site has been designed as this came up whilst going through the test criteria.  It was felt the site is helpful for developers in its present mode but if we could add more supporting materials it would be useful for a wider audience.    We may also need to change some of the technical language used!

The Accessibility Cloud project was mentioned in passing and meetings with experts in the field of linking data are being set up in the coming weeks.

Web2Access new entries: Teambox and xFRUITS

Teambox may appear to be a useful way of working on a project with others and I was very hopeful that it would mean there was no need to make a mashup of a set of services.  Sadly it was not that accessible for screen reader users.  I am also not sure that it is really as good as the combination of services that Seb has put together for us all as ours are all capable of doing more than the combined Teambox service.

xFRUITS was a really inaccessible way of aggregating your RSS feeds if you have to use a screen reader.   Lovely idea and would be brilliant if it really was easy to use, although I suspect I am saying this because I am not a true geek!  Now if someone has a better way of providing this service I would love to see it – otherwise here is another project in the offing!!