Apps for independent living

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Earlier this month I was given the opportunity to judge the Smart Accessibility Awards. These awards were organised by the Vodafone Foundation who partnered with AGE Platform Europe and the European Disability Forum (EDF). The international competition promised “to reward developers who have the creativity, vision and social commitment to harness the power of smartphones and the mobile internet in support of disabled and older people’s needs.”


Smartphones could offer significant benefits to older and disabled people. Yet the potential has not yet been fully realised. Relatively few mobile application (‘app’) developers focus on how these new technologies could help older and disabled people be more active and have a more independent role in society.

The inaugural Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards were announced at a ceremony in early December attended by the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes.

The winning smartphone apps whose developers shared the €200,000 prize fund were:

Help Talk (Wellbeing category): Help Talk is designed for people who are unable to communicate by speech, whether permanently or temporarily, such as those recovering from strokes. The application presents a set of commands represented by icons which when tapped ‘speak’ the basic need or desire – such as ‘I’m thirsty’ or ‘I feel pain’ – and goes on to allow the user to provide further detail in the same way.

Wheelmap (Mobility category): Wheelmap helps people with impaired mobility who may literally face obstacles as they go about their everyday life. Crowdsourcing lets users of the application rate and review the accessibility for wheelchair users of public places including cafes, museums, hotels and shops. In one month 1200 users registered for the app, and 180,000 places were reviewed.

Zoom Plus Magnifier (Independent living category): Zoom Plus Magnifier app allows people with visual disabilities including colour blindness and long or short-sightedness, as well as some forms of dyslexia, to easily read text by applying a magnifier, sharpening the focus, or adjusting font and background colours.

BIG Launcher (Social participation category): BIG Launcher is an alternative customisable Android homescreen, for older or visually impaired users who often struggle to use the small keyboards on most devices. It uses big buttons and large fonts to represent all the basic functions of the phone – telephone, SMS messages, camera, gallery, SOS button and installed apps.

Have a look at this video of the winners:

Perhaps the most positive aspect of the competition was that it had encouraged a large number of ‘app’ developers to think about this market in a way many of them have not previously.

The Vodafone Foundation will be repeating the competition again next year. What applications do you think should be developed? Are there better apps out there? Let us know.

David Sinclair

One thought on “Apps for independent living

  1. The apps featured in your blog are so simple and simply inspired. It great to see technology making progress to improve the lives of our elders and also our disabled colleagues. It really does prompt an excited and hopeful attitude as it makes you realise just how much value apps can add to life. The future looks brighter. My only plea is that the large companies don’t create needless ‘competition’ that just ends up confusing the consumer. Across the UK AgeUK and many other organisations run day-centres, can some of these large companies work with trusted suppliers to help develop the marketplace for these products?

    It would be great to see these products put into use for public good not shareholder value.

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