Tuesday, September 28, 2010

There’s an Accessible App For That

Recently, the Reeve Foundation’s Paralysis Resource Center posted their Guide to Apps for People Using Wheelchairs. The guide breaks down into nine categories: Accessories, For Kids, Health & Fitness, Games & Entertainment, Travel, Reference & News, Productivity, Assistive Technology, and Medical. Giving the category lists a quick run through I don’t see how a number of them cater to people living with paralysis specifically, but there are plenty of cool apps nonetheless. The only downer is that they are very iPhone, iPad, and iPod heavy, so those of us that are not Apple Disciples get left out in the dark on some good stuff.

Regardless, it’s worth mentioning a few that I think would be neat to utilize. In the Health and Fitness category there is an app called Physiotherapy Exercises that displays over 600 exercises for people with spinal cord injuries. I just did a guest post on the EasyStand Blog about my difficulties getting a good workout with SCI (i.e. Wannabe Gym Rat). In the Reference and News category I like the Spinal Cord Encyclopedia app, which provides info, pictures, and graphics of the spinal cord. I would also make good use of the Americans with Disabilities Act Reference app (provides ADA guidelines and FAQ’s) and the QuickADA app (gives you ADA regs and codes).

In the Medical category there’s the smart-ICE app which gives first responders instant access to your medical records, which is nice because the more info that you can give someone else in an emergency situation the better when you have a disability related health issue. Related, the Help Me! app one touch dials 911 for you in an emergency but still gives you time to cancel if you hit it accidentally. I have been stuck in my van with nothing but my cell phone to help me plenty of times, but thankfully not in any emergency situations. So those are ideal for those purposes.

I think the apps I would use the most fall under the Travel category though. CitiRollers is a guide to navigating cities on wheels, but currently features location data for just six major cities. FastMall gives step-by-step directions to wheelchair accessible routes through malls and shopping districts, specifically highlighting elevators and bathrooms. I can’t tell you how handy that would have been a few months ago when I rolled the length of about two football fields in a Minneapolis mall only to discover a) that it was out order and b) there was a closer one to my mall entrance not labeled on the mall directions marquis. The word “pissed” doesn’t begin to cover it. The LocalEats app lets you know if certain restaurants are wheelchair accessible, which is cool because it’s always a bummer to plan to try out a new eatery only to discover upon arriving that access is a no go.

Also under the Travel category is the app I like the most because it lets you fight back against handicapped parking abuse. The Parking Mobility app works by taking a series of pictures with your phone of cars without disability placards/license plates that include the plates, the spot the car is/ parked in, etc. and submit them to Parking Mobility. Then they review the data and send it to the municipality, who then distributes tickets to the offending parties. Very awesome. Plus it’s free for iPhone users. I wrote a research paper on handicapped parking laws in law school and the premise was that utilizing volunteer reporting will go a long way towards helping to cure the problem of rampant handicapped parking abuse. This app puts the power to police handicapped parking violations in the hands of the public. Quite literally, I might add.

There has been quite a bit of discussion on blogs, etc. lately about cell phone accessibility and what phones are the most accessible. I think the general consensus has been that the iPhone is the most accessible phone on the market on account of the touch screen, screen magnification, VoiceOver feature, attachments, apps, etc. For example, for wheelchair users specifically the iPortal by Dynamic Controls is a power chair accessory that connects to an iPhone or iPod touch to display wheelchair information, such as battery power levels, chair speed, seat positioning, and heading direction. It also lets users control their iPhone using the chair’s joystick. Now that’s what I call making good use of accessible technology.

Cell phone accessibility to me has always meant, despite my limited hand and finger functioning, whether it’s a phone I can handle and hold up to my ear first and foremost, and then secondly whether I can easily dial, text, and use the other primary functions. But my only issue with cell phones is related to my lack of manual dexterity. Phone accessibility to other disabilities means visual and/or sound cues, the ability to magnify the display, voice commands, or other related functionality.

The first four years that I had a cell phone I was way behind the technology curve with my “candy bar” style phone when flip phones (e.g. the Motorola Razr) were all the rage because I don’t have the manual dexterity to flip the phone open on command. By the time I would have gotten the thing open I more than likely would have missed the call, or dropped the phone in the process. My quad friend Mike worked around that issue by Velcroing his flip phone to the armrest of his wheelchair. Then he flips the phone open, dials or texts with the back of one his knuckles, and uses a Bluetooth earpiece to talk. But I don’t like the idea of having an earpiece in all day and you still have to deal with the flip thing.

Thankfully, the proliferation of “smart phones” brought it all full circle again and now there are a plethora of cell phones that would work fine for me. When my agreement was up two years ago I wanted to make the jump to smart phones. Blackberries went out right away because I wasn’t a fan of that little trackball. Plus I wanted a touch screen phone. I had full intentions of getting an iPhone but I tried one out and found myself frustrated with the touch screen keyboard. So I ended up getting a Samsung Epix (since discontinued) because it was a touch screen phone that had both a touch screen keyboard and a full qwerty raised button keyboard. So it was the best of both worlds. I’m still not sure why the product failed, I think it’s a cool phone.

But my two year deal is up again and I’m moving up to a full touch screen phone this time since I ended up using the touch screen keyboard to type about 90% of the time. I decided to dump AT&T for a handful of reasons (spotty signal mostly). I’ve got my eye on the Motorola Droid with Verizon or the HTC EVO with Sprint. Unfortunately, going away from AT&T means going away from the iPhone, which in turn obviously means that I won’t have access to many of the aforementioned accessible apps since they’re so Apple heavy. So I guess in my case there won’t be an accessible app for that, unless the Droid or EVO up their game.


  1. Superb blog post, I have book marked this internet site so ideally I’ll see much more on this subject in the foreseeable future!

  2. Thanks. This post got recognized by the Christopher Reeve Foundation's paralysis community blog, which was very cool. See the link below: