App aptitude: Smartphones ease tasks for disabled, elderly people.

Barb Griffin never thought she would be able to surf the Web, read books or watch TV. She never thought she would be able to check the weather and follow along during Bible study.

She never thought any of that was possible because she is blind.

Griffin, 69, was born legally blind, and her sight has worsened with age.

“I’m down to light and shadows,” she said.

But now, with the help of Missouri’s Telecommunications Access Program Wireless Project, Griffin can do things she never imagined. The TAP Wireless Project is in its second year of a pilot program and will be available to the public in 2016. Griffin was one of the guinea pigs for the project, which gives people with hearing impairments and low vision a tablet or smartphone to use and stay connected in their daily lives.

There are many applications on the iPhone that help people with low vision. And most of them come on every phone — most of us just don’t realize it. The voiceover capability reads everything that appears on the screen. Griffin can run her finger across the screen, and the voiceover will tell her which app her finger is hovering over. She just double-taps to open the app.

Griffin mainly uses her phone to stay in touch with family and friends, but the phone helps her in other ways, too. There is a color app that scans an item and tells her what color it is. Before this, Griffin needed help matching outfits, but now she can match them herself.

A similar app scans money and tells Griffin which bill she is holding.

The voiceover helps her access the weather app. When the sun sets, she knows to turn on the lights in her home, “so people know I’m home,” she said. She also knows when to head home when she is walking her sight dog, Mardi Gras, around the neighborhood.

She can even take pictures with her phone.

“People can point me in the right direction, and” the phone “will click when it focuses on what it thinks I want,” Griffin explained. Then all she has to do is double tap the screen.

With the color-matching app, Griffin now plans to try painting, something she has not done in years because of her worsening sight. She knows how each brush stroke feels, but trying to mix colors was the hardest part. She thinks the app will help.

Connections

TAP Wireless joined two other TAP programs hosted by Missouri Assistive Technology, or MAT: TAP for telephone, TAP-T, and TAP for Internet, TAP-I. The programs provide adapted landline telephone and computer technology for people who would have trouble using standard equipment. Adapted technology can range from sound amplifiers and bigger buttons on phones to adaptive screen readers and alternate mouse options on computers.

TAP-T and TAP-I have been operating for a while, but MAT saw a need to jump into the wireless age, said Marty Exline, MAT director.

“Telecommunications is just changing so much, and we wanted to see that people with disabilities weren’t being left behind because they didn’t have the technology to communicate with grandkids, apply for jobs” or check online, he said.

Missouri is one of roughly 15 states with a program like TAP Wireless, but MAT program coordinator Stacy Brady said Missouri is doing more

The “disabilities we’re serving are different,” she said. TAP Wireless is for someone with “pretty much any disability that interferes with someone’s ability to use telecommunications.”

To read the rest of this article, published in the Columbia Daily Tribune, please click here.