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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2013 Issue  Volume 14  Number 3

App Accessibility

A Collection of Accessible Apps for Your Android Device

Getting a new cell phone is a bit like moving into a new place. While you may be generally happy with your decision, there will inevitably be some tweaks and improvements you will make to turn it into your own. Today's Android devices are no exception, and with over 600,000 apps available to download from Google Play, there are a lot of possibilities. Below, I've attempted to round up some of the most popular and useful apps for your new phone or tablet, including a mix of old standbys and some lesser-known programs for both new and advanced users.

The apps listed below have been tested with Android 4.2 on a Nexus 7 tablet. Most will work with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or newer while some of them will also be compatible with older versions. If purchasing a new device, Android 4.1 or greater is highly recommended. See the AccessWorld review of Android 4.1 on the Nexus 7 to learn more. Links to download each app are included below the description.

Dropbox

One of the first apps I install on any new device is for the popular file storage service Dropbox. For those not familiar, Dropbox allows you to store documents, music, and other files online, providing easy sharing between multiple devices. A free account gives you two gigabytes of storage, and you can purchase or acquire more space through a variety of means.

In addition to the usual benefits of using Dropbox to move files between multiple machines or share documents with coworkers or friends, this provides for an easy way to install apps or copy music onto your device. On Android, no special software is required to load your favorite songs or ringtones onto your phone, so you could just use Dropbox to enhance your music library. The Dropbox app was one of the first to be almost completely accessible, and the latest version still uses a simple layout and is easy to navigate with speech or braille.

Social Networking

For social networking, both Twitter and Facebook have redesigned their apps in recent months, resulting in more accessible versions. If you prefer to use a third-party solution for Twitter, however, try out Plume. While there are many programs which let you keep up-to-date on Twitter and tweet to your friends, I like Plume because of its "keep it simple" approach. It includes the features you would expect from a full-fledged Twitter client without a lot of the bloat of some other programs. Some of the icons are unlabeled, but in general, you can use the surrounding context or a little bit of trial and error to figure out what they are.

Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder

Like most computers, the built-in audio recording functions on Android leave a bit to be desired. This can be overcome by downloading the Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder, a simple app which lets you record to a high-quality MP3 file. I contacted the developer who, then, quickly added labels to the buttons in the app, making it quite simple to use. The free version limits your recordings to 10 minutes each, or you can purchase the full version for unlimited recording.

Google Goggles

Google Goggles is one of the simplest apps for object recognition. I use it to recognize packages of food and currency among other things. It also includes some simple text recognition, handy for getting the name or number off of a business card. Plus, your previous searches are saved, so you can go back later and review previous results.

TripIt

I've written previously about some of my experiences when traveling independently, and several apps are quite useful to me in these situations. One of my favorites is TripIt, a way to organize your upcoming flights, hotels, and other travel information. After signing up on the TripIt website, you can forward your travel reservations to plans@tripit.com. TripIt automatically parses these messages to find all of the important information about your trip, which you can then view in the app. Use it to see flight numbers, airline gates, reservation numbers, flight status, and much more.

Ideal Group Reader

While traveling, you may want some reading material. AccessWorld reviewed two solutions for reading Bookshare titles previously, and now there is another accessible program from the Ideal Group. The Ideal Group Reader reads several ePub formats and includes a variety of accessibility tools. You can use gestures to move through the book, spell important words, or navigate the table of contents. It also includes a direct link to some popular free and paid book sources, including Project Gutenberg and O'Reilly Media.

Text-to-Speech Voices

Also, Android has a variety of text-to-speech voices available on Google Play, which may be quite useful for reading books. Voices from Ivona, Acapela, Svox, and eSpeak (among others) are available for free or just a few dollars. You could use one voice for your normal day-to-day tasks and another for reading long books.

For most of these voices, you will need to download an app for the voice engine, such as Ivona, and then download individual voices. Each app provides instructions on how to obtain their specific voices.

Podkicker Podcast Client

If audio entertainment is more your cup of tea, try out Podkicker, a free podcast client. It allows you to download episodes of your favorite audio broadcasts, including everything from NPR to ESPN. Many podcasts dealing with blindness-related issues are also available for listening. Download your favorites before you leave on a trip, so you can listen to them on the plane without an Internet connection.

TuneIn Radio

TuneIn Radio lets you listen to thousands of terrestrial and online radio stations. You can search for stations in several ways, including by genre and stations near your location. It also allows you to listen to podcasts and save your favorite stations for easy listening.

Lookout Security and Antivirus

Finally, if you've ever had that sinking feeling when you misplaced your phone and didn't know where it was, download Lookout Security and Antivirus for some peace of mind. In addition to virus checking and general security features, the app includes a service that will help you locate your lost phone by logging into the Lookout website. Easily use GPS to locate your device or choose to have it emit a loud sound so you can locate it. While Lookout offers a premium service, most features, including the lost phone recovery, are available with a free account.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the many accessible apps available for Android. Of course, there are thousands more available on Google Play for you to try. It's also worth noting that Google offers a 15 minute refund window for purchased apps, so you can download an app and do a quick look through to see if it appears to be accessible and get a refund if it seems to not work well. If you find an app you think is particularly useful or cool, send us a note. We'd love to know about it.

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