Tuesday, December 18, 2012

And the winner is….. everybody in the long run!

The Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards celebrated yesterday in Brussels the winners of accessible mobile apps in four categories: social participation, independent living, mobility and wellbeing. Out of 85 entries, the jury selected 12 finalists that presented a wide range of innovative and sometimes simple ideas of how apps can make mobile phones and societal life more accessible.

Viviane Redding, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, said in her keynote speech that while many accessibility features originally are designed for persons with disabilities, they often end up benefiting all users making mobile phones for everyone more convenient.

A statement beautifully underlined by the four winners:
  • Starting Blocks by Gemixin: introduces smartphones to people who are completely new to the world of mobile technology, particularly the elderly. Starting Blocks allows users to learn about, and more importantly, safely practice the key skills that they will need to use their Android device. In a nutshell, it provides them with the “starting blocks” that they will need to progress on their mobile journey.
  • Happen by Airsign Technologies: allows users to get information on a range of different topics, including daily news, weather, sports scores or stock quotes. The information is presented in a format adapted to each user's needs, either visually (with big texts and buttons and customizable colour themes), motor based (with different navigation modes) or supporting complete spoken feedback.
  • Jaccede by jaccede.com: catalogues places that are accessible to people with a disability. Useful information, such as whether the entrance is step-free, whether toilets are accessible, etc is displayed alongside photos, user comments and other relevant information.
  • Ablah by Ablah: an augmentative communication application, using images, text and sounds.The user can communicate with others by making the device speak for them. The backlit display has been found to be particularly successful with autistic children.

Great apps that we will make sure to integrate in the GARI database when we open it in the next months to catalogue accessible apps that make the life and inclusion of persons with disabilities easier.

More information about the Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards: http://developer.vodafone.com/smartaccess2012/home/
More information about the 12 finalists: http://developer.vodafone.com/smartaccess2012/saa-2012-finalist/

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all

… is the theme of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities 2012. Around the world, events and get-togethers are organised on 3 December to raise awareness and discuss openly solutions to better integrating persons with special needs in society. 

We would welcome your thoughts on what barriers you see in relation to mobile phones and tablet devices as well as what accessibility means to you. We would also like to know what are the most important mobile phone features for you  - so join the conversation on Twitter with #a11y #IDPD and let us know!

And what about your favourite accessibility related apps - which have made the most impact to you and why? We are working on a new feature for apps within GARI and we hope that it will help provide an even better picture of the usefulness of a device to you. We'll say more about that shortly, but for now, it would be great to hear your thoughts on apps, what makes them useful and which ones are already helping you.  

In the meantime, join in the actions planned in celebration of 3 December and we look forward to your feedback about what you are looking for in terms of accessibility features.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Personalised ring tones for function as well as fashion

Whether it’s Justin Bieber, Mozart or the Crazy Frog theme song, choosing your own mobile phone ring tone is still one of the most popular ways for people to personalise their phones.

In fact, last year alone mobile phone users around the world spent a whopping US$2.1bn on new ringtones for their phones. To give that figure some context, online music downloads from services like iTunes earned around US$3.6bn in the same year.

The ability to be able to assign your favourite song to alert you to incoming calls or texts is not confined to the latest smartphones – but rather it is a feature that has been available for many years and is offered in a large number of handsets.

Currently 260 phone models in the GARI database have the ability to assign different ring tones to particular phone contacts, and while we can all enjoy the feature, it has additional value for people who have trouble reading the caller ID on their phone screen.

For those with vision impairment, the ability to assign a memorable ring tone to certain contacts in their phone can let them know who is calling before they even take the phone out of their pocket or handbag.

In addition to assigning special ring tones to important contacts, some models also let you assign a personalised tone or alert to the many other functions on your phone including emails, text messages, missed calls and voicemail.

So depending on the alert, someone with impaired vision can recognise which email account just received a new message or whether they have a missed call or voicemail message.

To search for a phone model that has these features check the ‘Ring Tone Variations ‘ box under the vision features section of our online search tool or by clicking on the 'find phones' link at the top of this page.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

High contrast phone display’s help those with limited vision

There are many degrees of visual impairment ranging from short sightedness through to complete blindness all of which present unique challenges to using a mobile phone.

Phones that offer the ability to increase the size of text on the screen or “zoom in” may be beneficial to someone who has trouble reading small characters but would obviously be of no use to a person who could not see at all.

Likewise, voice control functions and braille phone attachments would be helpful to a user with complete blindness, but may be a step too far for someone whose vision is only partially limited.

Another option that can benefit people with moderately low vision is to have a phone that has a “High Contrast Mode”. This particular feature is useful to those who have difficulty reading text that does not have sufficient contrast with the background.  Changing to High Contrast Mode changes the background and foreground colours, most commonly by displaying white text on a black background.

The ability to improve a phone display’s contrast can also help users who are viewing the screen in areas where there is a lot of ambient light and where glare off the screen can make reading the display difficult.

On the other hand, many people experience sensitivity to bright displays and can have trouble focusing on a bright screen while maintaining the ability to distinguish between individual characters. These users actually need low contrast settings, as opposed to people with low vision who need high contrast settings. Therefore a phone that has an adjustable contrast control would be of greater benefit.

The GARI database now has both “High Contrast Mode” and “Adjustable Contrast Control” as searchable options to help identify phones that support these features. To find such phones check the ‘High Contrast Mode’ box or the ‘Adjustable Contrast Control’ box under the vision features section of our online search tool or by clicking on the 'find phones' link at the top of this page.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Saving time with shortcuts

Did you know double tapping the spacebar when typing on your iPhone makes a full stop? Or that pushing the ‘M’ key on your Blackberry takes you to messages and that pushing the ‘F’ key while emailing on your Android phone forwards the message?

Handy keyboard shortcuts like these can help you navigate around your phone’s display faster and can save you time when performing common tasks like browsing the internet or typing a text message or email.

Likewise, for someone who finds it difficult or painful to type on a mobile phone, such as those with arthritis, the ability to perform a task using less key strokes can help reduce the physical strain that using a phone puts on their body.

So how can you make the most of keyboard shortcuts?

There are literally thousands of shortcut commands across the many different mobile operating systems including Android, iOS (Apple), Blackberry (RIM) and Symbian (Nokia).

However, not all phones will have the same shortcut commands so it is important to check the user manual or do a search online to work out which shortcuts work for your particular device.

In addition, many modern phones actually now let you personalise their shortcut commands to specifically assign a feature to a certain keystroke or press of a button.

For instance if you wanted quick access to the camera function, you could program the camera to open whenever you push the ‘C’ key. Or you might want to push the ‘F’ key to access Facebook and ‘M’ to open music. On the iphone you can determine whether you want the voiceover, zoom or white on black accessibility features turned on when you triple-click the home button.

Another way to personalise shortcuts on touchscreen phones is to move a feature or app to a place that makes it easier to access.

By giving people the ability to customize their phones display and create their own shortcuts, people who may have found it too difficult to use a phone before can now tailor their phone to meet their particular needs, making what may have been a complex task much easier.

To search for a phone that allows you to make your own shortcuts check the ‘Personalise shortcut’ box under the vision features section of our online search tool or by clicking on the 'find phones' link at the top of this page.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Choosing a phone that's so smart it can make itself simple

Try filling a bag with all the things we now use our trusty smartphones for:  digital camera, laptop, calculator, phone, sat nav, address book, mp3 player, notepad, credit card, books, video camera, calendar and photo albums. Then shake it up and try plucking out your phone.

This is the same sort of daunting prospect faced by people with cognitive impairments when they pick up a modern smartphone and attempt to sort through the many icons, apps and features to make a phone call or simply send a text.

The many advanced functions packed in to today’s mobile devices can be a major selling point for a lot of people looking for a new phone. But they can also present a major obstacle for people that need a phone that is simple and easy to use.

Now the latest breed of smartphones with all their wiz-bang apps and functions also come with the ability to simplify their user display – showing you only the functions of the phone you want to use, hiding the rest out of sight.

Almost 30 phones in the GARI database now have the ability to tailor the device’s display to make critical functions easy to access for those that have trouble with complex tasks.

The “simplify display” function is also useful for elderly users who might only want easy access to calling and their contacts list or text messaging without all the other apps in the way.

This new function can give those people that may have found it too difficult to use a smartphone before, access to the benefits of a mobile phone for the first time by allowing them to customize their phones display making it the easiest to use for them. 

To search for a phone that allows you to simplify the display check the ‘simplify display’ box under the cognition features section of our online search tool or by clicking on the 'find phones' link at the top of this page. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Closed captioning on smartphones

The subtitles you can turn on at the bottom of your TV screen for people with hearing trouble are becoming more widely available on videos published on the internet and mobile phone manufacturers are starting to make their devices compatible with this handy function.

Unlike subtitles for a foreign film, closed captions can be switched on and off by the viewer and describe all the audio from a video not just the spoken works. For example if a car horn went off in a video, closed captions would display “car horn” whereas subtitles would show nothing.

Closed captions have been standard on televisions in most countries since the 80s but as more and more users turn to the internet to watch their favourite show or download the latest movie the option to show closed captions for online videos is starting to pop up more often as well.

YouTube, by far the most popular online video website, has made closed captions available to video uploaders since 2006 and have recently updated the service with voice recognition technology that automatically generates closed captions in the language of your choice for most videos.

While YouTube now has over 135 million videos that support the new voice recognition captioning, the technology is not perfect and can often misquote speakers in a video.

To ensure people who rely on closed captions have access to quality dictation, US TV shows available to watch online must now include the same quality of closed captioning that accompany them on television, under new US regulations to be rolled out over the next three years.

The new legislation also requires manufacturers of set-top boxes, PCs, smartphones, DVD players, and tablets designed to receive or play back video to be compatible with closed captions streamed over the internet by January 2014.

Some mobile manufacturers have already made their devices compatible with closed captions streamed over the internet, with 19 phone models in the GARI database now available with this software.

However with so many different media players on the web now streaming video, it will take a concerted effort from hardware manufacturers to ensure their devices are compatible.

Keep an eye on the GARI list as more devices adopt this handy feature by clicking on the 'find phones' link above. Just check the “Supports Closed Captioning for Web Video or Streaming” box under the hearing features section.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

GARI - Assistance for older people

The numbers are quite incredible. Today almost one in ten people are over 60 years of age, and by 2050, the United Nations estimates there will be nearly 2 billion people over 60, with some suggesting that the number of people over 60 at that time will actually outnumber children under the age of fourteen. 

With numbers like these, there is a strong probability that at some point in life, virtually all of us will be helping or caring for at least one parent or other relative. It might be because of failing eyesight, diminishing hearing or physical limitations, but aging brings with it various challenges, which seem to increase in number and severity over time.

One thing though that isn’t lost is the desire to communicate – be it with family friends or just to retain some level of independence. Technology can be a great help in this regard – but the challenge can sometimes be in finding and identifying the right tools, including a mobile phone that best suits the person’s needs.

Visiting a mobile phone shop, for example, to check what’s available can be a hugely trying experience on both sides of the counter. The customer may not be entirely conversant with the digital age or physically capable of handling the operating software’s command structure without help. The shop assistant is probably many years younger and technically savvy, but not at all clued up in how to explain phone functionality to someone who is not as technically literate as themselves.

This then is where the GARI database might help out. With details on over 100 different features of phones and with 550 models currently in the database, there is a wealth of information available to help those looking for a new phone. With just a little thought and research on the GARI database, a trip to buy a new phone can be made much easier for all concerned. Is a flip-top phone or candy-bar easier for the person you are helping? Do they want a relatively simple device or one of the latest smartphones? What ailments do they have that might be helped by different features on the phone itself? Not all phones suit every need, so we don’t try to recommend a particular one – but it can help to identify those phones that might be a better match for the person you are helping or caring for.

Age is certainly no barrier to being able to communicate; it’s just a matter of how you go about it - and we hope that GARI can play a part in that.

If you have had experiences helping someone buy a new phone, we would love to hear about it. What features were you looking for in particular and was it easy to find the right one?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Looking for phones with accessibility API’s?

Along with the built-in features for accessibility in today's smartphones, there are many after-market products available that make using mobile phones easier for people with cognitive difficulties, impairments or disabilities.

These include devices that convert the contents of a mobile phone screen into speech for users with limited sight, external keyboards for users who have trouble typing on phones and products that can display speech in text for users with hearing loss.

But just like an old printer might not work with the latest laptop, for some of these products to work effectively their software must be compatible with the software used to operate a mobile phone.

This is why phones with Application Programming Interfaces (API), which allow accessibility software programs to communicate with a mobile handset, is one of the features consumers can now search for in the GARI database when choosing a new phone.

An example of how important this software compatibility can be is with the use of Braille devices that give blind and deafblind users access to mobile phone technology.

Special displays can be connected to a mobile phone, which read a screen’s contents back to the user in Braille and by connecting a Braille keyboard to a phone a user can control many of the phone’s functions.

But unless a user’s phone has an API that can be used to support the Braille keyboard and display, the devices won’t operate correctly.

To search for a phone that supports accessibility API’s use our online search tool or click on the 'find phones' link at the top of this page.

As always, before buying a phone you should check its compatibility with the specific external hardware you want to use it with and if possible test the phone to determine whether it will meet your needs.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Searching for a phone with a front mounted camera?

One of the new features that we recently added to the GARI database was whether a phone has a front mounted camera. This simple feature may seem a novelty to some, but for many users with hearing loss it can make the world of difference - allowing them to carry out a face-to-face sign language conversation using a video call or conferencing function. 

Video calling features are becoming more and more popular on modern smartphones and for deaf users, choosing mobile phones with a camera on the same side as their phone’s display allows them to visually converse in real time over the mobile phone network.

In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, Andrew Wiltshire, an employment services manager who is also fourth-generation deaf, said that he found using video messaging on his iPhone gave him more opportunities to communicate than ever before.

“In the past we've had to really rely on other people to do things for us. We might feel quite dependent,” Mr Wiltshire said. “With the changes in technology, it's probably broken down the last barrier. Finally, with deaf people, we can become mobile. We can go around and still communicate.”

“It means I'm not disadvantaged or behind. I'm with everyone else … my hearing mates, we're all on an equal footing. I feel more confident and more able to do things," Mr. Wiltshire said.

A front facing camera can also be of great benefit to people who have trouble holding a phone to their ear. Rather than having to hold and use their phone in a conventional way, users can simply place their phone on a table or in a mount and carry out a video call hands-free.

It’s important to remember that even when you choose a phone with the right video capabilities, two-way video conferencing will depend heavily on the mobile networks speed and users should attempt to test the phone model themselves to determine whether it meets their needs.

To search for a phone with a front mounted camera and other video calling features use our online search tool (or just click on ‘Find Phones’ in the menu bar at the top of this page) or download the free GARI App from the Nokia Store or the Android Market.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Detailing new accessibility features

As you might have already seen - we have now added support for Italian to the site, taking us to 12 languages with several more in the pipeline - so keep checking back for the latest additions.

Another reason to come back is that we will shortly begin a series of articles that will detail many of the 15 new mobile phone features that we added following our feature review last year. Many of these features are routinely used, and probably without much thought, but their usefulness can have special significance for those with particular needs. So our articles with help highlight how these features are making a difference - and also serve as a reminder to those of you who might be looking for a new phone for someone else, what things might be worth considering.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

GARI App now available

With thanks to Vodafone Foundation Spain, anyone wanting to check out the accessibility features of various phones can now download the free GARI App. It is already available in the Nokia Ovi store which you can access here: http://bit.ly/AdlyBr as well as from the Android Market which is available here: http://bit.ly/wsix5z The app allows you the same functionality as using the online version but with the convenience of accessing it directly from your handset. While some formatting changes were made to accommodate the different screen sizes the information is all there as well as the ability to view it in either English or Spanish. The following are screenshots from the Android version. Once again thanks to the Vodafone Foundation team in Spain for putting this together and making it available.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A great start to the year

2012 is already off to a great start for GARI with Research in Motion (RIM) joining the project. You can already view the accessibility details for a couple of their Blackberry models on the database - just go to the 'Find phones' tab above to begin your search!

In addition, the Austrian trade association FMK has incorporated GARI into their website, which is available at http://fmk.at/Handy/Handy-Suche. We would like to thank FMK for their support of the project and take the opportunity to extend the offer of using GARI to anyone that is interested. There are two ways that you can integrate the database into your own site – either as an iframe, which is very easy to setup, or by using an XML file of the database that we make available. It’s this XML file that the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Accessibility Clearinghouse site at http://apps.fcc.gov/accessibilityclearinghouse/search.html?pgID=2 is using. So if any one wants to access the data to help people find the right phone for them – then jump on over to
http://www.mobileaccessibility.info/copyright.cfm where you can see the details and access the file.

The last piece of news is that we have now added the 15 new features to the database that came about from our recent review of GARI – so the database now contains information on about 110 accessibility features of mobile phones!

Let's hope the year continues like this...