A smartphone app which allows people to magnify text and adjust fonts and background colours was among the winners of the inaugural Smart Accessibility Awards for smartphone applications aimed at supporting disabled and older people.
Zoom Plus Magnifier, developed by a UK partnership of 232 Studios, Ian Hamilton and Digital Accessibility Centre, offers functionality for free that has previously largely only been available in software and camera products costing hundreds of pounds.
Four international awards of 50,000 Euros each were presented by the Vodafone Foundation – a charitable arm of mobile communications provider Vodafone –in partnership with AGE Platform Europe, a network of organisations working with older people, and the campaign group European Disability Forum.
The other winners were Help Talk, an app developed in Portugal allowing people who are unable to speak, such as those recovering from strokes, to communicate by tapping on icons; Wheelmap, an app developed in Germany which lets users rate the accessibility for wheelchair users of public places; and BIG Launcher, an alternative customisable Android home screen for elderly or visually impaired users who often struggle to use the small keyboards on most devices, developed in the Czech Republic.
BIG Launcher uses big buttons and large fonts to represent all the basic functions of a phone such as voice calls, text messages and cameras. Jan Husak, the app’s co-developer, says a typical smartphone home screen is not very accessible for elderly and blind people, being often crowded with all sorts of icons and widgets.
“On Android, due to its openness, you can choose from dozens of launchers, but they mostly offer functions which are only appealing to geeks – even more icons, special graphical effects and so on.
“BIG Launcher makes using the phone easy, even for users who are scared of new technologies. It allows its users to use the phone quickly in any situation, without pulling out their glasses or getting lost in the menus.”
Wheelmap is an app that builds on top of Google maps, overlaying information about wheelchair accessibility of any location such as a restaurant or railway station sourced from users. In its first month 1,200 users registered for the app, posting information about 180,000 places.
Andrew Dunnett, director of the Vodafone Group Foundation, told E-Access Bulletin the type of crowdsourcing used by Wheelmap held huge promise for disabled people. “The potential for that to change people’s lives is very impressive. The maps are there, the handsets are available – the key is the user groups, and how they engage with it.”
In all some 67 applications were received by the awards, with 12 shortlisted before the four prizes were award, Dunnett said. He confirmed that the foundation would be rerunning the awards next year.