Accessibility lies in the eyes of the beholder.
May 1, 2014 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Help me source an accessible option for a client with a unique set of challenges. Inside lurks a lot of info...this one is challenging.

Background: I work for a disability rights organization, where my focus is as an ADA Specialist and Construction Manager, but I also get to do great fun like advocacy work, helping write some legislation, etc. I also happen to be an IT guy (on the side, because I have so much time), so I've been brought in to work with this consumer.

Consumer is a voc rehab client, has been for 6 years. She is very gainfully employed by another disability rights organization. I have reached out to multiple other organizations and am not so much looking for organization references as I am PRODUCT REFERENCES.

This consumer has brittle bone disease, and as a result she is quite small. She has also, so far, survived multiple forms of cancer, but has to travel ~3 hours away, twice a month. She also has a significant learning disability that makes lots of visual things very challenging for her. Specifically, lots of color and lots of contrast make things indecipherable for her. My modified form pack for her is plaintext, no lines, just as an example.

She needs a GPS to help her with her trip, as well as daily life. Currently, to use a dumb-phone, she has to memorize menu orders and key positions. She would like to text and do other fun stuff. She requires tactile feedback, which is no problem. The challenge for navigation is that a lot of her disability sort of manifests as visual impairment, but unsurprisingly, there aren't (That we can find) any GPS devices or apps that do what she needs for DRIVING because most of the time low-or-no-vision users aren't driving.

For example, when a GPS says "take the exit on the right in 1/4 mile" but there are exits between this one and that one, it's a fail. What she needs is like "Turn right at the grocery store", and/or just a LOT more audio queuing WITHOUT visual clutter on the screen. This exists for walking...but not for driving.

Ideally we're looking for an app versus a standalone device, as she wants to text and use the functions of a smart device. She is NOT of decreased intelligence, she simply can't process what she sees if it is cluttered. I suspect we're going to have to go android, simply because I need to be able to kill icons on the screen to the greatest extent possible. We have two current-gen ipad Air's in the office, but none of the accessibility features that are baked in really do what she needs. We also have an Asus TaiChi (win8 touch-tab), if there is a windows option that anyone can think of.

SO...the TL;DR version:

I need accessible navigation. I need to kill colors and pictures/icons and lines. The goal is that she can text from the device and navigate if at all possible. If we HAVE to use a standalone GPS device, that's an acceptable conclusion...she has tried about 10 or 15 with no luck. (For example, when she puts in the address, she can't really tell what she's typing if there is no audio feedback from the tiny keyboard, because of the lines/complexity.)
posted by TomMelee to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
The default GPS navigation tool in Android has a text only version, which gives a list of steps instead of a map.

It also has 4 modes - Walking, Biking, Public Transit, and Driving. Those are icons, I'm afraid.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:37 AM on May 1, 2014

Okay -- I admit up front that it's not a GPS -- but a smartphone with the app VizWiz might get you part of the way.

VizWiz is an app that allows blind and visually-impaired users to receive quick answers to questions about their surroundings, in real time.

Here's a write-up about it.

And a review.

Basically, she would take a photo of where she is standing using the smartphone's camera, and then ask a questions about it. (For example, the GPS told me to turn right on Smith St. Where is Smith St?)

The app is free, but I have no idea if there are charges associated with it's use. It was developed by The University of Rochester, with support from the National Science Foundation.

I have only read about it, so I can't give you a testimonial about it.
posted by vitabellosi at 9:41 AM on May 1, 2014

You may have already tried these, so sorry if I'm staying the obvious. Can she work with gestures only and switch off the screen completely? You can use both iOS and the most recent android devices without using the screen at all.

There are personal GPS services designed for people with sight problems. Trekker Breeze is a popular brand in the UK. I don't know how they work for driving, but I know people who use them on the bus to know where their stop is.

There are also a couple of different android launchers/mods? I'm not sure exactly what, designed for older people and disabled people. They simplify the interface and the apps, often turning the home screen into big buttons, one for each app. I've not used any so I don't really have any recommendations.
posted by Helga-woo at 10:21 AM on May 1, 2014

Thanks to everyone who has answered, I didn't expect a big response, this is tricky.

spinifex23---I will experiment. The text-only is nice, but part of the issue is voice description. It's still going to not give her enough cues, I think.

vitabellosi---That's a nifty app. Much easier to use than the Intel Reader we had before, but the turnaround isn't fast enough. She can read OK, she just can't deal w/ screen noise. I'm saving the app though for the next consumer.

Helga-woo---Yes, regarding gestures. She has done some of this. Not sure if she's done anything w/ voice, either. She's totally good to memorize positions/patterns, this COULD work, but not sure how to have her get her addresses into the gps, for example.

The personal gps for non-sighted persons I'm familiar w/, the challenge is that they're not for driving---she can't punch in an address 3 hours away and get cues to get there. They ARE nice for identifying landmarks and such, they just don't do car least that I have found.

As for launchers, this is what's leading me toward android and away from iOS. I can't kill icons on iOS, I can on Android. I can totally make her custom screens/menus/keyboard sizes/etc. If you have any experience w/ any of these launchers or mods, I'd love to hear them to save me the legwork of experimenting.
posted by TomMelee at 10:27 AM on May 1, 2014

Waze has a "turn right in 1000 feet" and then "turn right at Streetname" thing, where it prompts you to get in the correct lane a bit quicker than Google maps usually does.

With Smartphones, you can always turn off the screen and listen to the audio directions if that is more helpful.

For texting and such, I honestly think Android is the way to go. My mother has MS and some cognitive difficulties, and I've got her set up on an Android device. We can have the home screen have JUST the apps required/preferred, it's a quick tap to open it up and go. There are a TON of keyboards available, haptic and audible feedback can be turned on.

While looking for keyboard options, I found Fleksy, which I just installed on my phone and I'm curious to try. Might help reduce visual clutter, and if Audio is better than Visual, might be useful.
posted by HermitDog at 10:33 AM on May 1, 2014

Well you probably know this, but voiceover on ios is more popular because it's much more integrated into the system. The downside of android's diversification. But if you were to put together a suite of apps that work in android, then it should be ok. On both of them there are ways to use a keyboard just using gestures. Or why not just voice input? Siri and Android are both pretty good now.

I've not used any of the launchers I'm afraid, so don't really know much about them than they exist.

Flexy gets loads of kudos, but I'm not sure l work of she's not good with grids.
posted by Helga-woo at 11:20 AM on May 1, 2014

Does this have to be real time, or would it possibly help if she could view her route before she begins? Google maps has some good tools for this, especially StreetView. This could happen either on a larger screen on a desktop, or on a smaller screen in her car.
posted by at at 4:38 PM on May 1, 2014

Mike May at the Sendero Group has pioneered blind-focused (hah!) GPS. He's also a friendly guy (and skiing enthusiast), and it's a shot in the dark (hah! hah!) but he might be able to connect you with the combo of an accessible interface plus a standard driving-oriented GIS.

Particularly relevant to him since he grew up blind and had sight-restoring surgery quite late in life. He can appreciate the unusual combo of skills and limitations.

I'm guessing you've already poked the blind-users-of-GPS email lists/communities. AppleVis is a good one for iOS; Android users also post there.
posted by Jesse the K at 9:18 PM on May 1, 2014

HermitDog--You're right about waze, I had forgotten that, however since it's been purchased by Google is it going to continue to exist? Right now she is listening only...and that sorta works, she just needs more queuing. Thanks for the Fleksy option, I'm testing it out now myself and I'll show it to her. Interested to see how she handles the gestures. I'm not seeing the voice-recognition button in Fleksy, but I'll get there. Thanks for your post.

Helga-woo: I'm way aware that iOS is more popular in accessibility circles because of its overall unification, however in this case it's that same walled garden that's stopping us from getting some of the customizations we need. I'm playing with Flexy now, will show it to her at our next meeting. Thanks!!

at: It really needs to be realtime. Looking at it ahead of time is nice, but she needs turn-by-turn in a big, foreign city she's not familiar w/, unfortunately.

Jesse the K: Thanks for that, I'll hit him up. I've been all over their website looking at their offerings, and she's familiar w/ the organization, but I haven't tried to talk directly to them. I'll look more into the mailing lists too. I have reached out to orgs, not mailing lists.

TL;DR---Thanks, I'm on it!
posted by TomMelee at 11:22 AM on May 2, 2014

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