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Thursday, September 2, 2010

What additional apps can help me use my phone eyes-free?

The number and variety of applications any user can have is what makes the smartphone experience unique. The apps listed in this post nicely supplement the ones that are preloaded on the phone. In some cases, they provide alternatives meant to bridge gaps in accessibility. In others, they offer added convenience. In Still others, they cover activities many new users ask about. In all cases, they're a good way to start a personal app library.

For more information on these and many other apps, user reviews, and accessibility ratings, blind and VI users can visit the Android Access site.

All of the applications listed below are free, and all are available from the Android Market:

• Astro by Metago is an accessible file manager. It's not essential, but it's sometimes handy. For best accessibility, navigate to the unlabeled buttons at the top of the screen, then press the selector on Preferences (the second unlabeled button from the right), Toolbar Preferences, and Toolbar Button Style; then check Text.
• Checkmark Calendar by Greenbean Soft is an accessible calendar app with day, week, and month views. Events are scheduled in the stock calendar, which is partially accessible in Android 2.2. and earlier.
Eyes-Free Shell by Eyes-Free Project is an alternative to the standard home or launch screen. Users access signal strength information, time, battery level, a number of shortcut pages, current GPS location, voicemail, all applications list, and simplified voice search using the touch screen.
• Gesture Search by Google Labs enables users to draw letters on their screens to quickly find one of their apps, browser bookmarks, contacts, phone settings, and songs/albums.
• HeyTell by Voxilate is a push-to-talk application with chat.
• Ideal Web Reader by Apps4Android (on the Market as Ideal Web Access Pack) is the only standalone accessible browser at this time. It uses touch screen gestures to read web pages and interact with links, edit fields, and other elements. It allows for reading in chunks, sentences, words, and characters. Information is typed using the physical keyboard. For the tutorial, open the app and slide a finger across the screen from left to right.
• IM+ by Shape is a chat client that supports AOL, Facebook, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, MySpace,Skype, and Yahoo.
• Intersection Explorer by Eyes-Free Project is an accessible map for tracing routes. The user draws a circle on the touchscreen to identify streets, then follows one of those streets to the next intersection, and so on.
• Keyboard tutor by Eyes-Free Project puts the phone in key describer mode, enabling blind and VI users to explore the physical keys and 4 capacitive buttons on their handsets.
• K9 Mail by Dog walkers is a popular email app, the only one known to be accessible. It offers many of the features (e.g., forward, reply to all, CC and BCC) users are accustomed to in their desktop systems. In addition, users are able to review received messages line by line by pressing the selector in open messages.
My Lock by MyLock and Lock Now Free by Azrael keep overactive screens still during phone calls, a problem with certain handsets.
• Seesmic by Seesmic and Swift by Sebastian Delmont are accessible Twitter apps.
• Talking Compass by Bill Ray is an accurate talking compass. Check this developer on the Android Market for other GPS related apps, like Look Ahead and Location Blind, which are useful for pedestrian navigation.
Talking Dialer by Eyes-Free Project is an app that puts a soft keypad on the touch screen so that blind and VI users can make calls without the physical keyboard. It includes a Phone Book feature for calling from Contacts. The physical keyboard is required to respond to menu prompts in automated systems.
• TouchType by Nolan Darilek is an accessible virtual keyboard that also allows users to review text in edit fields by character or line.
• TuneIn Radio by RadioTime is a radio app that enables users to find stations by area or content genre.
• uNote by OhGlaube is an accessible notepad application that allows for the creation of nested notes. For example, pressing the selector on an item called Groceries can open up a list of individual items that can be added as needed or deleted when replaced. This is especially handy since editing with a screen reader is almost impossible at this time.
• UpSoundDown by Lionebra Studio activates speakerphone mode when the handset is set down on a table, turned up side down vertically, or flipped over. This is helpful as the speakerphone option is tricky to access during a call. The other plus is that users can easily interact with the in-call screen, which is also tricky to negotiate. It is important to note that the person at the other end of the call can hear the phone's speech when the user navigates around the screen.
• Vlingo by Vlingo enables users to dictate text into edit fields.
• WalkyTalky by Eyes-Free Project is a walking navigation app that provides both spoken guidance and real-time current location.

These apps are described in more detail in upcoming posts.

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