Smart ideas

Technology offers great tools for people of all abilities. Apple and Samsung, for example, offer a variety of built-in tools that help people with disabilities get the most out of their mobile devices and computing equipment. CLAIRE RENCKEN does some research

Apple is one of the world leaders in technology innovation. The iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch come with assistive features that have changed the technology landscape for people with special needs.

The iOS devices feature high-precision, touch-sensitive displays that require no physical force, just simple contact with the surface. Apple’s AssistiveTouch allows users with limited motor capabilities to adapt the multi-touch screen of their iOS device to their needs. So, more complicated multi-touch gestures, like a pinch or multi-finger swipe, are accessible with just the tap of a finger. Or users can create custom gestures. And if they have trouble pressing the “home” button, they can activate it with an on-screen tap.

Gestures like rotate and shake are available even if the iOS device is mounted on a wheelchair. And for those who need assistive devices such as joysticks, iOS devices also support a number of third-party options.

Siri, Apple’s built-in personal assistant, can help users do the things they do every day – just by asking. It can make phone calls, send messages, schedule meetings, set reminders and more, all with minimal physical touch. And Siri is integrated with VoiceOver – an advanced screen reader – so users can ask where the nearest petrol station is, and hear the answer read out loud.

The Dictation feature lets users talk where they would type. They can reply to an email, make a note, search the web, or write a report using just their voice. With just tap of the microphone button, Dictation converts words (and numbers and characters) into text.

Samsung Electronics has also come up with some pretty smart solutions in recent years. The eye-controlled mouse – Eyecan – and an application called Dowell, have each been designed to assist people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and upper limb disabilities.

In 2011, five engineers from Samsung Electronics’ Creative Lab started a voluntary project to create an assistive device for people who are paralysed as a result of ALS. In 2012, after much trial and error for over a year, the team introduced Eyecan. It is a pair of eyeglasses equipped with a small web camera, which allows users to browse the web and work on documents on the computer with simple eye movements. In 2014, the second-generation Eyecan+ was introduced. It does not require users to wear glasses, but instead comes with a wireless portable box that sits below the monitor.

In April 2014, Samsung Electronics announced the development of the Dowell application, which is for people with upper limb disabilities. While assistive technologies, such as head mouse and track balls, are most commonly used by those who face challenges using hands and fingers to work with their computer, additional solutions have been required for them to have better access to smartphone devices, which require various finger movements such as tap-clicking, swiping and pinching.

Based on dwell click technology, which allows a person with physical difficulty to be able to use a mouse or other pointing device without the need to click a button, Dowell allows users with disabilities of the upper limbs to control their smartphones with existing assistive devices. Users only have to install the app and connect any type of assistive device to their smartphone with an on-the-go (OTG) cable. Once Dowell is installed, users can manipulate their smartphone by hovering the cursor over a certain area and making clicks simply by letting a certain amount of time lapse.

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