Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He is a disability advocate, and is currently the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine — a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work. Learn more at www.belocipriani.com.
Apps for People With Disabilities
We all have our challenges, some big, some small, and some that require assistance. As a blind man, I know firsthand the importance of reliable technology, not just for the use of completing chores, but also for mingling with everyone else. Here are seven apps for people with disabilities that enhance anything from socializing to buying groceries.
Disney Movies Anywhere
Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA) is an app that allows blind and visually impaired individuals to enjoy Disney•Pixar films through a feature called descriptive audio — a service that has voice talent narrate the non-spoken parts of a movie. While descriptive audio has been around for some time as a special feature on DVDs, or at theatres, DMA now makes it possible to use one’s very own iPhone or iPad to watch Disney•Pixar films at the movies, as well as at your home. By using the microphone on the headphones, the app syncs up with the movie and provides the descriptive audio, which is so much better than using the often damaged descriptive audio headphones and dirty box at theatres, or having to have someone with sight click the descriptive audio button on the inaccessible DVD menus. The current library of movies available is small; however, Disney•Pixar is committed to making descriptive audio a standard feature, and, with time, will grow its number of titles.
As someone who depends on descriptive audio for entertainment, I am so happy and grateful that Disney•Pixar released this app, and hope other studios follow this fantastic example.
This powerful tool gives a voice to those with speech and language impairments, such as oral, head and neck cancer, muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or autism. Available on the iOS and Android platforms, it allows people to handwrite or paste text from another app into the HandySpeech interface, and then have the application read the message out loud. The app can even understand cursive, is available in 13 languages, and does not need Wi-Fi to function. It can be used over the phone, as well as in social and professional settings. It was created by 12-year-old Eric Zeiberg, who developed the assistive technology for his disabled sister. Zeiberg says, “I invented HandySpeech to give a voice to people who find it difficult to or are unable to speak.”
This app helps people who are deaf or hard of hearing make outbound phone calls. It provides live transcriptions, also known as captioning, and offers an automated voice synthesis. During live conversations, the spoken words appear as text messages on the screen, while the person on the other end of the line hears a phonics voice. My deaf friends and I use it all the time and it’s a great alternative to texting.
I started using Lyft about a month ago and must say I am very happy with the service. I know that people with disabilities — especially those that travel with guide dogs and wheelchairs — have had problems with them in the past. And partially, this was the reason why I had not tried the service before. Now, I am happy to share that I find Lyft to be the most accessible taxi service on the market. The Lyft app is fully accessible to the blind via the iPhone and iPad. Lyft also has added an “access” mode for people in wheelchairs to request vehicles with ramps. The app does not allow for a rider to state that they are traveling with a service dog, yet, my guide dog, Oslo, was well received by every Lyft driver we met. So, it is very clear that Lyft has done a lot of A.D.A training with their drivers. Lyft also hired Marco Salsiccia, who is blind, as their Access Specialist. Salsiccia says, “The accessibility and responsiveness of the Care teams makes it quite easy to rate and review drivers; accountability is paramount in the ride sharing community, and being able to quickly remove problematic drivers and loudly announce poor experiences keeps the quality of the service high.”
Facebook just added a feature last month that, in my opinion, made them the most accessible social media platform. The feature is called Automatic Alt Text and it generates descriptions for pictures on Facebook for the blind and visually impaired — no matter who shares the images. Also, if pictures come into the Facebook platform via another social media entity, it will create the descriptions for the images as well. Now, I am able to know why a picture is getting a lot of likes or laughs, without having to ask someone else to describe it for me. In the future, Facebook plans to add this feature to Instagram as well.
This free app for the Apple OS works as a sound amplifier and helps individuals who are experiencing some hearing loss, but are not ready for a hearing aid. It was developed by ExSilent, a Dutch manufacturer of hearing aids, and it’s a free download. Using your headphones, you can place your device on your desk at work for a conference call, at a restaurant table, listen to the TV or radio, or simply use it to chat with someone at a party. It is very easy to customize the settings for each ear and one can even record and play back the last 20 seconds of a conversation — just in case you need to hear something twice.
Although Instacart does not brand itself as a personal grocery shopping service for people with disabilities, they are definitely gaining a lot of popularity among those of us who cannot drive, or find it tough to carry heavy grocery bags. Their service is only available in a few regions, but I have personally used their app in the San Francisco Bay Area, LA, NYC, Minneapolis, Boston and Miami. And in all of those places, I’ve received great service. However, they are available in other regions as well, so I would suggest checking the app for cities where they operate. The options of stores you can choose from differ from one place to the next, yet their retail selections are generally good. Through the Instacart app, I have purchased fresh veggies from Whole Foods, large dog food bags from Petco, bulk purchases from Costco, and canned goods from Safeway. The delivery options are the best I have seen from any personal shopping service, and, in some areas, they can deliver in an hour. Another cool feature is they allow you to communicate with your shopper either via text messages or the phone. I picked the phone feature and have received calls from the shopper to inquire about replacing an item with something else, or to describe the produce at the store. All in all, a great service for people, like myself, who find it physically tough to carry groceries from a store back home.