My Top App Picks for iDevices by Scott Davert, AppleVis Editorial Team and Accessibility Specialist

Photo of Scott Davert with his white cane and assistive technology

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, (at left) is an AppleVis Editorial Team Member and a Senior Instructor in the Adaptive Technology Department and Communications Learning Center at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults.

Most recently, Scott compiled his Top Ten List of useful tips for braille users of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, based upon his personal experience and his work with individuals who are deaf-blind and use braille with their iDevices.

This week, Scott reviews his personal picks for apps that are user-friendly and accessible to braille (and also speech) users. According to Scott, “As a power user of braille devices on iOS, it’s very liberating to me, as a deaf-blind person, to be able to take full advantage of the technology we have in our society today. Just a decade ago, my access to resources was much more limited if braille was my only means of accessing the world. Today, with the help of technology, I can be just as well-informed about what’s going on around me as my sighted and hearing counterparts.”

Please note: All of the apps in this review were found to be current as of March 6, 2014.

1. We Interrupt this Program…

Breaking News, developed by Vijay Anand, does what the name implies. It compiles all of the top news stories in one place, so that you can quickly get the headlines any time you have a data connection. Even better, the app supports push notifications to alert you to, well, breaking news.

Breaking News works very well with VoiceOver and braille. It’s also free and will allow you to customize the receipt of your push notifications, including those from CNN, Fox News, Reuters, the Associated Press, USA Today, and the BBC.

You can configure these notifications by going in to Settings > Breaking News. Press a cursor routing button to turn the sources on or off as desired. Or you can do what I do, which is turn all the push notification sources off, and just use it to browse headlines and read articles.

The article formatting depends upon the source of the article, but I have not run into anything I could not read. Like all other apps, press a cursor routing button on the title of the story to launch the browser with the article enclosed.

2. Wherever You Are, You’re with the BBC

The BBC News app puts the top stories carried by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in a list of links. Browsing to each story works well, and all elements on the page are readable.

The only minor inconvenience is that the top news stories refresh every few minutes, which could make VoiceOver move slightly in its focus. Other than that, it’s a model that other content providers, such as Fox News and USA Today, should take a look at to compare for accessibility.

Browsing articles and reading content is very easy to do with BBC News, and all is accessible via braille, with the exception of the news summaries, which you can choose to receive in either video or audio format. (Unfortunately, there are no transcripts of these news summaries.)

Please note that this version of the BBC News app is the Worldwide version, and not the UK version, which provides different, UK-specific, content.

3. Score Big

Well, OK, perhaps you won’t always score big with this app, and perhaps your teams won’t either. But with Sports Scores and Alerts, you will always be able to keep up with the teams you want to follow, even in real time.

This app offers a scoreboard that is updated within 30 seconds of the action in the game, along with schedules, standings, updates on players, and additional features for Fantasy League participants (for a premium). You can even have push notifications set up for your favorite teams. Leagues include the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the English Premier League.

Please note, however, that there are three buttons in this app that are incorrectly labeled with VoiceOver: (a) one called GoldStar, (b) another in the Games tab called GrayArrowLeft, and (c) one called GrayArrow. Here is what these buttons actually do:

  • The “GoldStar” button allows you to pick a favorite team when in the Teams tab, which you can select with the cursor routing button.
  • The “GrayArrowLeft” button will take you to the most recent previously scheduled event when the Games tab is selected.
  • The “GrayArrow” button will take you to the next scheduled event when the Games tab is selected.

4. Get a Line of This

A blog post about accessible news apps wouldn’t be complete unless it includes the NFB-NEWSLINE® Mobile app. For qualifying individuals who have a print disability, this app provides access to 300+ newspapers, 40+ magazines, local information related to blindness, and local TV listings in many areas.

You can add to your favorites list, email yourself a publication in DAISY format, and send yourself single articles of interest. As long as you live in a qualifying state and have a print disability, you can gain access to this treasure trove of information that is constantly updated.

While the app does include information from USA Today, The New York Times, and a feed with breaking news from CNN, it has been my experience that the NFB-NEWSLINE® app content from these sources differs from the content provided by the actual USA Today, New York Times, and CNN apps.

Thus, while this service is fantastic and works very well with braille displays and VoiceOver, it’s not an exact replacement for the content you’ll find in each mainstream news app.

The NFB-NEWSLINE® Mobile app will also alert you to severe weather warnings by vibrating and alerting you via audio when you launch the app, though I have found that reading the bulletins causes my braille displays to become very sluggish. This occurs whether you’re using iOS 6 or 7, and I’ve also duplicated it with four different displays.

If you meet the criteria for having a print disability and want to apply for membership to NFB-NEWSLINE Mobile, you can do so from the NFB-NEWSLINE® web page.

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