A Review of the Humanware Communicator App by Scott Davert, Helen Keller National Center: Part 2

Photo of Scott Davert, standing on the sidewalk with his white cane and assistive technology

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, (at left) is a Senior Instructor in the Adaptive Technology Department and Communications Learning Center at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC) in Sands Point, New York. Previously, Scott reviewed RoboBraille: Enhancing Document Accessibility, and vision enhancements and hearing and physical motor enhancements for Apple’s iOS 5 release.

This week, Scott reviews the new Humanware Communicator app, which facilitates communication between deaf-blind and sighted and hearing users.

In Part 1 of his review, Scott discussed the basics of the Communicator app and focused on the app’s “New Conversation” option. In Part 2, Scott discusses the remaining app options, his conclusions about the Communicator app, and answers the biggest question of all: Is it worth $99?

The Communicator App Options: the Basics

In Part 1, I focused on the New Conversation option. Now, let’s move on to the other options in the app:

  • Greeting: Allows you to customize the greeting that displays when you are attempting to communicate with another person via the app. Within this setting, you can clear or modify the standard greeting, in contracted or uncontracted braille. You can also type it via the touch screen.

One could argue that it is already possible to do this, via the Notes app; however, with the Notes app, you will not be able to confirm that the (sighted) person on the other end of the communication understands you.

  • Phrases: Allows you to use shortcuts to enter several letters and numbers, which will generate predefined text. The app provides a set of predefined numbered phrases, including “Can you help me with directions?” and “I’m looking for bus #.” These phrases are activated by typing in the letters “me” followed by a dash (-) and the corresponding phrase number. For example, if I want to ask a sighted person for directions, and once he or she taps “OK,” I can press “me-00,” followed by Enter. You can customize messages, and there appears to be no limit on the number of predefined messages you can create.

If you know which messages you want or need, you can set them up ahead of time. Just be sure that whatever shortcut you use is a phrase not commonly used in everyday language. Using Humanware’s example of “me-00” is an effective way to do this. To access this feature from the home screen of your iDevice, go into Settings > General > Keyboard > and locate it under the Shortcuts heading. You must hit the space bar before the shortcut text will appear.

One could argue that this feature is already available in the iOS platform via shortcuts. However, using shortcuts for this purpose could exceed the knowledge and/or training levels of some users; thus, this feature in Communicator is a helpful one, since the shortcuts function in iOS must be set up separately from the app.

  • Archives: Allows you to access saved conversations and search the archives for specific conversations. The archive file names are stored by the date and time they were saved. You can rename conversations and also delete them.

However, you can perform these same functions with the Notes app. In fact, the Notes app takes this further: You can go into a note, share it via email, or print it if you have a compatible wireless printer.

  • User Guide: The User Guide, as with all Humanware products, appears to be well-organized, allowing the user to navigate to each section from within the Table of Contents. It also provides the user with commonly used braille keyboard commands. However, the User Guide assumes that the user already knows how to pair an iDevice with a braille display. It would be helpful if Humanware had included these instructions for users who are not familiar with the process.

Looking Ahead

A couple of additions could make this app more appealing and cost-effective:

  • It would be nice to be able to communicate from iDevice to iDevice, just as it is possible to communicate with other BrailleNotes running the deaf-blind Communicator software.
  • Looking ahead at iOS 6, there will be an accessibility option called “Guided Access.” The purpose of this feature is to limit/restrict access to certain parts of the screen, so that if an individual is less familiar with the app and taps the wrong part of the screen, it will not affect the performance of the app.

The Most Critical Part of Any Review: The Importance of Assessment

The most competent professionals in the field of adaptive technology will tell you that one of the most important components of the teaching process is performing a comprehensive assessment. Only with a proper assessment can a professional or individual determine the best technology solution for specific situations.

Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that what works for one deaf-blind consumer may not work at all for another. Only through proper assessment can the best solution be found to match an individual’s communication needs. Whether you’re deaf-blind yourself, or working with someone who is, trying out all available options is the first step in creating a successful teaching/learning plan.

My Answer To the “$99 Question”

It is certainly beyond my area of expertise to say whether this app may or may not be beneficial to every individual who is deaf-blind. Certainly, the ability to create phrases within the app is a good feature, as well as displaying the greeting and allowing the sighted individual to acknowledge that they understand what is being asked of them.

However – Is it worth $99?

For an advanced user of iDevices (such as me), certainly not. For a less-advanced user who may not have the problem-solving abilities required to make this type of communication work, it could make a huge difference.

In terms of price, this app certainly is cheaper than the full deaf-blind Communicator system. However, for many potential users, there are not enough advanced features to justify the $99 price.

Certainly, if I were recommending equipment for the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, this would be a consideration, but only in limited situations with specific consumers.

For security purposes, you can purchase a case with a lanyard that wraps around your wrist and provides sufficient “slack” to allow another person to look at the device’s screen. These are made for the iPhone and iPod.

We thank Scott for his excellent review! For more information, you can contact Scott at scott.davert@hknc.org.