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14 great computing aids for the disabled

Keyboards controlled by eye, PCs operated by light

Getting work done on a computer is easily within reach of the blind and physically disabled thanks to a number of new and updated tools. We've rounded up the 14 best gadgets to improve computing for the disabled.

Braille on the go: Braille+ Mobile Manager and BrailleNote Apex

Many blind people take notes in Braille, the nearly 200-year-old alphabet that's made from a series of raised dots. But most Braille devices are too cumbersome to carry around.

That's where the Braille+ Mobile Manager from the American Printing House for the Blind comes in.

With a 60GB hard drive and a powerful processor, it can go anywhere. The $1,395 (£927) device has a Perkins-style Braille keyboard so users can type in notes, appointments and contacts; there's also a voice recorder for oral memos.

Anything held in the Mobile Manager's memory can be read to the user with the device's synthetic speech engine or sent to a computer via built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

It synchronises with a Windows PC (according to a company representative, third parties are working on Linux and Mac software), is compatible with Word files and can surf the web, play music and read books aloud.

Plus, with several third-party apps and games available, Mobile Manager is evolving into a computing platform for the blind.
A larger, more powerful option (more like a laptop than a PDA) is HumanWare's BrailleNote Apex.

Based on Microsoft's Windows CE 6.0, the Apex is available with either a QWERTY keyboard (the QT model) or a standard eight-key Braille keyboard (the BT model).

In place of an LCD screen, the Apex has a 32 cell Braille display. A series of pins are raised above the surface in the distinctive Braille pattern that are felt and ‘read' by the user.

The Apex offers 8GB of internal memory, a high-capacity SDHC card socket, three USB 2.0 ports, a GPS receiver, and Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity.

The device is less than an inch thick and weighs just under 1kg.

The included KeySoft Suite can help the visually impaired type a memo or paper, do online research, send instant messages or record a meeting to keep up with a typical day at work or school.

It's easily the best-equipped system for the blind, but at $6,200 (£4,122), it's going to take a bite out of your budget.

A small hearing boost: soundAMP app

Computer use isn't an enormous challenge for the hearing impaired, but it can still be difficult to work in an office when you can't make out what co-workers are saying.

If you can't quite hear everything that's being said around you but aren't ready to wear a hearing aid, your iPhone or iPod Touch can help with an app called soundAMP from Ginger Labs.

With sophisticated audio-processing software, soundAMP can amplify words while filtering out background noise, helping make audio more comprehensive in meetings, noisy cubicles or elsewhere.

A sound-level meter lets you adjust the volume or tone at any time to suit the environment. You can even mute the sound if your boss is getting boring.

If you didn't catch what was just said, soundAMP can play back the last five seconds of material from its memory.

The app can be downloaded from Apple's App Store for £3.99.

See also: Websites not fit for disabled

  1. From keyboards controlled by the eye to light-operated PCs
  2. Sip and puff input systems
  3. Light-operated PCs
  4. ZoomText magnifier/reader
  5. Braille on the go

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