Chat apps such as ‘Blappy’ help fill a gap when people are unable to communicate in a social setting with each other due to different disabilities, such as someone who is vision-impaired communicating with someone who is hearing-impaired. Yet while these types of apps offer impressive communication mechanisms, many features that are already built into smartphones can accomplish much of this without the need for a separate app.
Dr Scott Hollier, Media Access Australia’s Specialist Advisor, Digital Accessibility, road-tested new Android-platform access app Blappy and found that it’s a clever application, but not a game-changer.
“While this app offers an impressive communication mechanism, many features that are already built into smartphones can accomplish much of this without the need for a separate app,” Dr Hollier observed.
The major positive of Blappy is that in a social setting, people can communicate over Bluetooth effectively and in real-time, which is a concept that would have been almost impossible just a few years ago. However, there are some downsides to this approach, as Dr Hollier explains.
“The first big issue is that that there’s an assumption that the two people who want to communicate with each other both use Blappy, with Bluetooth enabled on both devices, and that both people have managed to communicate that they want their devices to connect with each other. Yet trying to communicate all of these parameters is difficult, if the communication app is yet to be set up.”
“The second major issue is, do we really need a separate app to do this, when the same result can be achieved using two modern devices?”
With built-in accessibility features now found in most mobile devices, an alternative is for the person who is vision-impaired to have their screen reader turned on to ‘Talkback’ on Android or ‘Voiceover’ on iOS, whereby a hearing impaired person could send them a text message which could be easily read out by the screen reader.
In return, the blind person could use voice input or screen reader input to type a message in reply which could then be read by a person who is hearing impaired.
“This method of communication allows more flexibility,” says Hollier, “as any app can be used or text methods such as SMS could be used , which is generally preferred by people who are Deaf or hearing impaired.”
However, Blappy does have some good things going for it. “This app streamlines the opportunity tor a conversation to take place, and then there are the four languages currently supported by the app, so there are pros and cons for both approaches,” says Hollier. “And hopefully the developer (ABP Devitel) will include the more commonly-used secondary languages in Australia, in the near future.”
As innovation in this space continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see how new features built into our devices will continue to support communication between people with difficult disabilities, and whether third-party apps are able to continue filling in the gaps where they occur.
For information on how to organise an accessibility audit for your app or website, or for assistance in making your web and digital communications accessible to people of all abilities, contact Media Access Australia’s digital accessibility services team.