Apps For That?

Icon of the iOS App Store

One of the first things I did this morning was check out the App Store on my iPad, and the first thing I noticed was that this week they are highlighting apps for accessibility. Here's a snapshot showing most of the collection they've put together:

Screen shot of the Accessibility section of the iOS App Store, as displayed on an iPad

Apple did the same thing last summer, in recognition of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some of the apps this week are the same, but a few that were there last summer are missing, and a few new have been added. It's fun and maybe useful to browse these apps, if you have an Apple device. As I flick through the apps and try to figure out what they all do, a few thoughts come to mind.

- It looks like they left out the writing and dictation apps, and added a group of apps for speech. That's a decent trade if there is limited space in the promotion, but someday they should do a really thorough listing of apps for every kind of disability. I'd also like to see some of those accessibility mapping apps like AXSmap and AbleRoad included.

- There seem to be somewhat fewer free apps in this collection than you usually see in App Store groupings on a theme. In fact, the cost of these apps seems to be quite a bit higher than usual, and a few of the more powerful apps are quite expensive. That said, for the cost of a modest iPhone and a $120 app, you can give a non-speaking person with additional print disabilities the power of speech. Technology that did that used to cost thousands of dollars just a few years ago.

- Once again I am both intrigued and perplexed by the apps that look like they are supposed to control household devices. There is some kind of Apple-based system for operating appliances, lights, heating and cooling, and even opening doors and windows with the right attachments. The problem is that Apple hardly promotes it at all, and there's surprisingly little information available on how to get started automating your home. They might start with some clear indication of how much it all costs! Or, maybe I'm just being dense about it and haven't found some really obvious source of information.

- Overall, it still feels like the present capabilities and usefulness of apps and mobile devices combined haven't really sunk in with the disability community. Even your basic out-of-the-box apps like calendars, to-do lists, word prediction, and voice input and output can make life with all sorts of disabilities easier.