Stacey: Megan Dausch speaking.
Megan D.: We’re going to now talk about various apps that can help people who are DeafBlind. We will talk about apps for communication, and we will also talk about apps for daily living, as well as speech recognition apps. Technology has really opened up communication for people who are DeafBlind. The first app I would like to talk about is the Messages app. Text messages are very popular. People are really comfortable now communicating via text messages, but people who are DeafBlind can use these to their advantage. Text messages are a fully accessible way for people to communicate. You can text your family and friends and let them know where you are or have full conversations with them. Text messages are fully accessible via braille display. Another handy feature of text messages is that you can share your location with family and friends using the messages app, so you can quickly text them your current location, if you want some assistance, or just would like to share where you are in space.
Stacey: Here we have an image of a young man seated at a table next to a DeafBlind woman. The young man is texting the woman on his iPhone and the woman is smiling while she reads his message on her portable braille display, which is connected via Bluetooth to her iPhone.
Megan D.: Another useful app is the FaceTime app. Again, FaceTime is popular for many, many people across the globe, but FaceTime really benefits people who are DeafBlind as well. You can use FaceTime to sign with one another, because it’s a video call, so you can actually see what other people are doing and sign back and forth. You can also use FaceTime to see people’s lips moving, and so that gives a visual component to the audio, to the FaceTime call. Additionally, FaceTime audio for many people who do have some residual hearing can be more clear than using the regular cellular connection, so that can increase access to communication by making communication more clear and easy. Another very useful feature of FaceTime can be that you can get visual assistance from family, or from, for example, I sometimes use FaceTime if I want to get visual information about what’s around me or maybe something that I am cooking. I will simply FaceTime a family member or friend and ask for information about my surroundings. Another useful communication app is the built in iOS notes app. Being able to write notes can facilitate face-to-face communication. A person who is DeafBlind can take their Bluetooth keyboard or their braille display and utilize that with a notes app. For face-to-face communication, you can hand a trusted person your iPhone, and you can type in braille, or you can hand a trusted person, a Bluetooth keyboard and have the person type back and forth to you using that Bluetooth keyboard, and you can read on your braille display. So, just a simple app, like the notes app can be an option for improving face-to-face communication.
Stacey: And here we have a screenshot of the notes app with a note saying, “Hi, Liz, would you be able to drive me home today?”
Megan D.: Another app that can be very useful for youth in the community is an app called BuzzCards. BuzzCards can allow you to communicate with the cashier or someone in the community who’s taking your order at a restaurant. For example, you can put your Starbucks order in the app and show the card, the virtual card, to the barista, or someone who’s taking your order, and they will know what it says, and you can create cards and place them in different categories. For example, if you want, you can have a category for dining and have your orders planned out, you can have a category for transportation, if you would like to write out, maybe the bus you’re looking for or other information that you may need for transportation. So, the BuzzCards app allows you to have pre-created cards on your phone that you can show to people in the community who might need to assist you.
Stacey: Here we have a screenshot of the BuzzCards app. The background of the screen is yellow with large bold black text. The note on the screen reads, “large coffee with cream and sugar, please.” On the second screenshot, we have a list of templates that you can select from, including categories such as, the coffee shop, fast food restaurant, or requesting assistance locating places such as a restroom or a bus stop.
Megan D.: Now, we will go to my colleague, Megan Conway, who will discuss speech recognition apps.
Megan C.: I’d like to discuss another fun tool that I use, which is Speech to Text recognition application on the iPhone. So, these programs will recognize speech and then transcribe them into text for the user on your device. Some of these apps are designed for multiple people, so that each person requires the app on their device in order to communicate with each other. And then others of these apps are designed for just the single user to be able to, say, put your device on a table, somebody talks, and then you can see what they are saying on your device. So, for example, the one that I like to use is called My Ear, and it’s a pretty simple app. So, for example, I might go into a Starbucks where it’s very noisy, I can’t see the menu, I can’t lip read. If I was an ASL user, obviously that that would be a challenge. So, what I can do is I can put my iPhone down on the counter and then when the person at the window says, “what can I get you today?” That would be picked up by my iPhone microphone, and it would read, “what can I get you today?” If I could speak, I could respond with speech, but it also has a typing capability, so I could type, “I want a double Latte,” and show, kind of tip it up and show that to them, and then we could have a conversation back and forth that way. One thing that I do like about My Ear is that you can adjust the font to make it easier to read so, you can make the text larger, and you can also adjust the background color and the color and the font, so that’s one reason that I like to use that particular application.
Stacey: And here we have a screenshot of the settings page on the My Ear app. The options include auto scroll, split by lines, text size, text color, and speech. Here, the male voice is selected. And now we go back to Megan Dausch speaking.
Megan D.: Now, we will speak about apps for daily living. The iPhone has dramatically increased the availability of information and with the camera you can use a lot of different apps to get information that can help you in your day-to-day life. One of the most popular apps for daily living is an app called Seeing AI, and Seeing AI is kind of like a multi tool because it has so many features. This app will allow you to complete various tasks that you might encounter on a day-to-day basis. For example, you can use the app to take a picture of your mail and sort your mail. This is the app that I personally use nearly every day to sort my mail.
Stacey: Here’s an image of a person using the Seeing AI app to identify a piece of mail. The iPhone camera is held over the address on an envelope. At the bottom of the screen are options for “short text”, which is highlighted. Other options seen on the screen include, “document”, “product” and “person”.
Megan D.: You can also use this app to take a picture of currency. For example, if you have a $1 bill or a $5 bill, and you don’t know what it is, you can lay the bill flat on a surface and hold the camera above the bill, and the app will tell you what the denomination of the bill. You can also of course get the same information from a braille display, so if you’re using a braille display with the iPhone, you will be able to feel the denomination of the bill on your braille display, that is connected, if it’s connected to the iPhone. There is a feature called “document mode”, in Seeing AI, which allows you to take a picture of a document and read it with your braille display, or your VoiceOver speech. There is also a feature called “short text” that kind of lets you get the gist of a document. You hold the phone above the document and it will begin reading whatever is in the camera view. Another fun feature of the Seeing AI app is the “person mode”, which allows you to take a picture of a person and get a very basic description of what the person looks like. Do note though, that this is really not to be relied upon. It will tell you an approximate age of a person, but obviously computer technology and can be very, very off. It will also tell you at times what color hair the person might have. For example, brown hair. It might say, “35 year old woman with brown hair looking happy” as a description of a person. You can also save the photo from the person channel for future recognition, so if you are in a room with this person again, and you hold your phone and you move your phone around and the phone recognizes the person that you have already taken a picture of, it will let you know that that person is there. Another channel that the Seeing AI app offers is called the “product channel.” The product channel allows you to scan a barcode. As you know, many boxes and cans and products have barcodes on them. So, you take your phone and you move your phone until it scans the barcode, and then if the barcode is in the seeing AI database, it will tell you what the product is. In my experience, this can take some practice to do because barcodes can be in different locations. Well, barcodes are in different locations on many products, so sometimes finding that barcode can be a challenge. However, with practice, this is a very useful app for people who might have products in their kitchens that they’d like to scan and to obtain directions from different packages. Another channel that the seeing AI app includes is a color channel. As of this recording, and in my opinion, the color channel is not always accurate, because it is very dependent upon the lighting in your surroundings. However, it is worth a try and may improve. There is another app that can called Boop Light Detector, that will vibrate when the light is on. Seeing AI also has a light detection feature, but it is an audible beep; it plays an audible beep when the light is on. Whereas, Boop Light Detector also gives you a vibration, so if you cannot hear the beep, Boop Light Detector would be a proper, possibly a better choice, because it has a very strong vibration feature. This is very useful, if you cannot see when the light is on. I personally find apps with light detection capabilities, very useful, because if I forget to turn the lights on or off, it is a good way for me to know what the current state of them is. Another app for daily living is called Way Around. Way Around is an app that allows you to affix tags to different items around your home. You have to purchase the tags from the company Way Around, but once you purchase the tags, you can the app to record, to type in a label, make a label of what the product is. Then you affix the tag to the product or piece of clothing around your home, and when you encounter that piece of clothing, you take your phone and you put your phone near the tag and your phone will read you that label that you have already recorded into the app. Other apps for independent living include Be My Eyes and AIRA. These are similar services, both apps work by allowing you to share your video with a sighted person who’s on the other end of the phone. Essentially, they are like FaceTime calls, but not through the FaceTime app. Be My Eyes is a network of volunteers that are readily available to help you. So you use the app, you open up Be My Eyes, and you make a call, and there’s a volunteer waiting at the other end. They will see what you are showing them through the phone’s camera. This is a free service and it is always good to be careful with anything you use on the internet. These are volunteers, so is important to think about what information you’re sharing, and use your best judgment about information sharing with the volunteers.
Stacey: Here, we have a screenshot of an advertisement of the Be My Eyes app while in use. At the top of the screen, it reads, “Lend your eyes to the blind and visually impaired.” Below that is an iPhone with an image of a blue button-down shirt and text reading, “What color is this?”
Megan D.: The service also offers direct connectivity to Microsoft and Google accessibility among other things. So sometimes you can get specialized help through Be My Eyes and directly link to popular services like Google, Microsoft, you can get various specialized help from other companies. Be My Eyes is always adding new companies on board, so it’s worth a look. AIRA is very similar. Again, you have a person who can watch what you are displaying through your camera or video connection to another person. AIRA is a paid service. You can currently, as of this recording, have five minutes for free each day, but that may change. However, it is a paid service, and so, if you would like to research more, you can do so by going to AIRA’s website.
Stacey: Here, we have a screenshot of the AIRA app in use. There are several pictures on the left side of the screen with written descriptions on the right side of the screen. The first reads, “living room with some light coming through the window.”
Megan D.: Both of these services, Be My Eyes and AIRA, you really, you do need to have some usable hearing because there is not a text method of interacting. There is with AIRA. There is an option for texting. However, mostly you communicate with the agents via voice. You can certainly try to communicate with them via texting. That may be an option and may perhaps will evolve but Be My Eyes does not currently have a text interface, it is completely audio only. AIRA has some text functionality. Apps are always changing, so what is relevant today may not be relevant tomorrow. The app landscape is always evolving. Some apps get pulled from the app store because their companies go out of business, new apps get added, which is really exciting, it’s ever changing. So, always explore what’s out there because what I shared with you today may not be relevant in a month, we don’t know. One really great resource for exploring apps is a website called AppleViz.com. You can always go there and find different reviews of apps and become a part of the community yourself. [End of Transcript]