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Tools for people with special needs living remotely


Adaptive devices and assistive technologies help people with autism, cerebral palsy and many other developmental disabilities function better. These forms of alternative communication (methods used to supplement or replace speech or writing for those with speech or writing impairments) have always been vital for people with special needs. But the COVID-19 pandemic made them more crucial, as living remotely became a must and will likely continue to some degree. In this article, we explore some software and devices for people with disabilities who live remotely.*

Support for Tech Users in General

In today’s world, people with mobility issues are able to use all types of technology.  The most commonly used support systems include adaptive switches, mouth sticks, head wands, or “sip-and-puff” systems to access computers and mobile devices.1  However, specialized software is becoming more prevalent too. The Open Sesame app for Android, Apple and Windows operating systems works with cameras in mobile devices and computers to track users’ head movements to unlock their screens, make phone calls, and do other tasks hands-free.3

Apple also recently launched SignTime, an on-demand sign language service for its customers.2 Its product updates for people with special needs include the Apple Watch’s AssistiveTouch and eye-tracking hardware support for the iPad.

Visual Aids

Eye-tracking devices, together with software, let people who can move their eyes select things on a screen without the use of a mouse. And, automatic page turners or bookholders may help them read. Software also allows the developmentally disabled to read and complete tasks.

Users with low vision may also find projecting or “casting” a mobile device’s screen onto a compatible big-screen TV easier to see. Google’s Chromecast and the operating systems in most computers and mobile devices offer screen mirroring.

Some devices also come with screen readers. For example, iPhones and iPads offer Apple’s VoiceOver, Android includes TalkBack and Kindle contains Text-to-Speech. Windows includes Microsoft Narrator. Below are some more options:

Voice Dream

Voice Dream Reader reads text from PDFs, web browsers, Word docs, PowerPoint presentations and other software aloud.

OrCam Read

This handheld device has a smart camera and reads text aloud from any printed surface or digital screen.

Alternatives include NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA), a free, open-source screen reader for Windows, and JAWS (Job Access With Speech), which also aids on-screen navigation and includes speech and Braille output.

The following apps support task completion:

Todo Visual (iOS)

On an iPhone or an iPad, users may create a picture-based schedule with icons or photos as reminders to complete tasks. They can also share it with an Apple Watch.

Visual Schedule Planner (iOS)

This iPad app uses images, video, and audio to help people see and schedule activities with a calendar. They may use their own images and sounds. It includes timers, a checklist, notes, and reminders.

Speech Tools

Smart devices such as Google Home and Nest, and Amazon Echo and Alexa control household technology through voice commands. They may also make phone calls, control lighting, and do other tasks. These devices also work like intercoms to let users speak with others remotely as if they’re in the same room.

Computers include dictation software and speech assistants. For instance, the iPhone’s Siri, Apple Dictation for Apple devices, Windows’ Speech Recognition, and Google Docs’ voice typing (via the Chrome browser) are accessible options. Dragon dictation and speech recognition software is a popular choice available for download. These are some more apps for mobile devices:

Voiceitt (iOS)

Voiceitt learns a user’s speech patterns and translates them into recognizable speech. It can also build a personal speech dictionary.

Grace (iOS)

This iPhone and iPod app lets people with speech disabilities use images, including their own, to form words and sentences. They may show the pictures to others or have the software speak for them.

iConverse (iOS)

This iPhone and iPod Touch app uses icons to represent basic needs and wants. It also offers “text-to-speech” and voice recordings to help everyone from toddlers to adults with verbal disabilities communicate.

Predictable (Android and iOS)

Predictable lets people who can read, but can’t speak, type what they want to say. The app will then “predict” the wording they want to use and read it aloud, giving them a voice to speak with.

Writing Assistance

On the lower-tech side, specialized handles and grips let people hold objects such as pens and pencils for writing. More hardware and software aids include:

Keeble (iOS)

This accessible keyboard makes typing in many iOS apps easier and faster for users with impaired motor skills and vision. It includes word prediction, timing options, and auditory feedback. It also supports switch control and VoiceOver.

Lucy 4 Keyboard

This “hands-free” keyboard is attached to a pair of glasses. To type, users control a small laser lamp with their head movements to point at letters on the Lucy keyboard panel.

Audio and Video Calls

Accessible meeting software can ease audio and video chats for people with disabilities.

Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet are among the easiest apps to use. People with special needs may change their settings to adapt these apps to their disabilities4. They offer live captioning, keyboard shortcuts and work well with screen readers, which can announce that a microphone and camera are on.

  • Zoom: Accessibility options include screen reader alerts, the ability to adjust font sizes, and closed captioning. PC users may control most settings with a keyboard, including shortcuts. The software also automatically makes transcripts and records meetings and spotlights interpreters and speakers. The NVDA screen reader has a free Zoom add-on to let users customize alerts during meetings5.
  • Microsoft Teams: The software now has added features such as focus mode, inline translation, and live captions.6 For Windows users, it offers keyboard shortcuts.7 It’s also compatible with text telephone (TTY), voice control on iOS and Android, screen magnifiers and other assistive technologies.
  • Google Meet: PC users can access “hotkeys” for basic tasks such as microphone or camera control.8 In the Chrome browser, they may use a built-in screen reader. Those with vision and hearing difficulties can access spoken feedback and live captions through hardware such as the Chromebox and Chromebase.

All of this software may also be used for audio calls. Below are some mobile device apps that also make phone or video calls:

Pedius (Android and iOS)

This app helps people who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate by smartphone without a third party. They can make calls by text messaging their contacts. Pedius translates the other person’s speech into text for the caller to read. It uses artificial voices and lets users record their own. They may also call many basic services for free.

RogerVoice (Android and iOS)

This app offers instant captioning on audio and video calls with a sign language interpreter. Users can also respond verbally or by text, subtitle calls with voice recognition and perform other functions.

For information about our support services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, contact us today.

*Note: This article is for information purposes only. Nothing contained herein is meant to serve as a recommendation of a particular software or device.