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19th Jan 2017

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Phone apps to boost access for disabled Europeans

  • Not all apps are easily accessible (Photo: Robert Scoble)

Life on the road for people with disabilities may become just a little bit easier after the winners of the first ever Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards for easy-access smartphone apps were announced on Monday evening (5 December).

The awards, divided into four categories, were rated in terms of the extent to which they help the blind, the deaf, or otherwise disabled to play an active and independent role in society.

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In the category for independent living, the award went to the Zoom Plus Magnifier, which allows people to zoom in on text and change the colour and contrast of the background - something of particular interest to people with dyslexia, colour blindness or any other visual impairment.

Wheelmap, a crowd-sourced database that allows people to rate and view the wheelchair accessibility of public places like cafes, museums or restaurants, won in the mobility category.

"If I go from A to B, I never know if B is accessible," said Raul Krauthausen, a severely disabled wheelchair user and one of the developers.

Big Launcher won in the social participation category. It produces an alternative home-screen for phones with big, colourful buttons, especially designed for older people or people with visual impairments.

"It is something that was needed. I saw older people struggling with their Blackberries," said Jan Husak, one of the two developers.

And finally Help Talk, designed to help people with speech impediments, won in the well-being category. It presents the user with a set of icons that when tapped tell the phone to read out a certain key phrase - such as "I'm thirsty" or "I feel pain".

Each team of developers receives a €50,000 prize. All apps are free to download and run on the Android operating system.

The award - a collaboration between Vodafone, the AGE Platform Europe and the European Disability Forum - was handed out in Brussels in the presence of EU digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes and Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao.

"Helping people with disabilities and people that are older to get more actively involved in society is in the interest of all of us," said Kroes, "not just of those members who are in that category."

She added that innovation in this field is important, not only "to provide care and safety for our diverse and ageing population", but also to tackle the financial crisis. "The market of digital services and applications for people with disabilities encompasses over 80 million people. It makes you wonder why not more parties actively play into this most promising market," she said.

Colao, for his part, said he was happy with the result of the award and announced that there will be a second edition next year in order to boost the market for easy-access apps.

"Vodafone has worked on the problems of access before, but we always run up against the problem that you needed a special device," he said. "The great thing now is that you do not necessarily need this."

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