A new family of “apps” is opening up the world of smartphones for blind and visually impaired users, helping with day-to-day tasks such as catching a bus, as well as normal phone functions like calling and texting.
The ‘Georgie’ apps are designed for smartphones using the Android operating system. They use a function that reads out aloud the part of the screen users touch and a voice-recognition function for speech commands, allowing users to speak the content for a text message into the phone, for example or have their phone contacts read out to them.
Georgie was designed by husband and wife team Roger and Margaret Wilson-Hinds (both of whom are blind), the founders of assistive technology company Screenreader, alongside Screenreader software architect Alan Kemp. It was named after Margaret’s first guide dog.
The fact the system was developed by blind users is key to its power, Roger Wilson-Hinds told E-Access Bulletin. “We’re not second guessing what blind users want. Georgie is not retrofitted to software that’s been designed for sighted users. Apple and Google both have accessibility settings that are a great start, but the intricate and cluttered screens are very difficult to navigate around and find the correct button, even if it’s being read out.”
The software is available ready to use and pre-installed on a Samsung Galaxy Y smartphone handset for £299, or can be downloaded separately onto any existing Android-based phone for £149.
Georgie’s core features help users send text messages; scroll through phone book contacts; make phone calls; and configure the phone.
Three additional bundles of apps (at £24.99 each) cover ‘travel’; ‘lifestyle’; and ‘communicate’. They add extra features such as: ‘Near me’ – finds places of interest for the user; assistance with bus timetables and when to get off a bus; ‘audio player’ to listen to audio books, an optical character recognition feature, which reads out photographed text; and a tool to record and broadcast audio blogs.
Although all of these features are already available from other providers, one of Georgie’s strengths is that it collects these apps together in one place.
Robin Spinks, principal manager for digital accessibility at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said that Georgie was to be commended, “for allowing users to access the features of a range of modern smartphones in an easy-to-use and accessible manner.”
Georgie is being distributed through Sight and Sound Technology.
Earlier this year, the One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition – an umbrella group of organisations promoting access to technology – published a report on apps that can help disabled people, and access to apps and smartphones in general.