Smartphone apps can enhance our senses when they're limited by age or disability.
For many smartphone users, applications such as Gas Buddy, Red Laser or Angry Birds may be valuable or entertaining, but hardly indispensable. For Steve Zent, a St. Louis Park resident who is blind and works at the Low Vision Store in St. Paul, apps are far more than a game-- they're a game changer.
"I can have my GPS, color identifier and calculator synthesized in one device," he said.
More than 40,000 apps have been created just for people with disabilities. And being able to use an easily recognizable smartphone instead of a special device created for a specific disability makes a person feel like the playing field has been leveled, said Zent. "Everyone recognizes an iPad or a smartphone," he said.
The apps can be a huge cost savings, too. Touch-to-speak technology used to cost as much as $8,000, but a touch-to-speak app such as Proloquo2go now costs about $190.
Apps can help kids and adults with moderate to severe physical disabilities but they can also serve as an assist to anyone who might need a little help in an awkward situation.
Here's a rundown of a few apps that make life a little easier.
In a dark restaurant or bar (let's pick on Bradstreet Craftshouse in Minneapolis), aging eyes may not be able to read its fabulous cocktail menu. Do my eyes deceive me, or is there really a drink called the "Corpse Retriever"? Ugh, no. Point your smartphone near the menu, and light it up to discover that it's the "Corpse Reviver" you want. A variation, Zoom Reader ($20), magnifies small print and reads texts out loud.
Does this yellow tie go with this blue shirt? Hard to know when you're colorblind. With this app and others like it, hold the smartphone (iPhone, Android or Blackberry) screen close to an item and the app will announce the color. The descriptive, pictorial names such as "moon mist" are less helpful than the "simple colors" setting, which can easily identify a shirt or blouse as "red" or "green."
Before paper money readers, visually impaired people relied on a sighted person to identify a bill's denomination or used a special fold for $1s, $5s, $10s and $20s. Then money reader devices became available for $100 to $200, but they were cumbersome and slow. The latest app on iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices responds quickly and accurately to identify bills from $1 to $100. Other currencies include the British pound, the Euro, the Canadian dollar and the Australian dollar.
Proloquo2go uses graphic images to help nonverbal kids or adults communicate. If a person wants assistance, he or she can touch the "help" image and the iPad will say "I need help" in a natural-sounding voice. Instead of the larger picture-exchange communication devices that cost about $8,000, the app allows anyone with an iPad to access more than 7,000 items and customize it with their own words or phrases.
Most people in their 50s or 60s with a hearing loss wait too long before they get a hearing aid, said Chris McCormick, vice president of marketing at Starkey Hearing Technologies in Eden Prairie. By delaying a hearing check, they can lose some capacity for correction. With the SoundCheck app a person who is concerned about a loss can perform a mini hearing test that might push them to make an appointment with the audiologist.