A common mantra at Fuss Free Phones is that there is more to easy to use mobiles than just big button phones. Vodafone has championed this with the Smart Accessibility awards under which entrants competed for a share of a €200,000 prize by producing an Android app which would help less able people make the most of mobile phones and mobile technology.
The reason behind Vodafone holding the first Smart Accessibility Awards in Belgium became clear to me in the middle of the event. Brussels is home for the government agencies who worry about things like accessibility, sustainability and those things which chime well with Vodafone’s CSR agenda.
This meant the awards were given out by some fabulously important people, including Vittorio Colao the head of Vodafone.
The awards were in four categories: Social Participation, independent living, mobility and well-being, with each winner taking home €50,000
The winner in the Social Participation category was BIG Launcher, this is a replacement Android home screen, which gives six large buttons. The initial screen drops into menus which are similarly easy to see and use. The basic six buttons are telephone, SMS messages, Camera,
gallery, SOS button and installed apps. This seems to be a great starting point for making Android phones accessible, in the past we’ve seen Threedomphone and we can expect to see similar ideas from the major manufacturers in the easy-to-use mobile space, in the future. Jan Husák of BigLauncher is looking to develop the product further. You can download the Android version for 99p from http://biglauncher.com/
The winner in the Independent living category was an application called Zoom Plus magnifier which has been developed by the marketing agency 232 Studios and Ian Hamilton who used to be with Age UK. We are used to mobile phones supplanting dedicated devices such as watches and cameras, it’s only right that they should provide a cheaper alternative to some of the dedicated hardware bought by people with impairments. Zoom Plus turns an Android phone into an intelligent magnifying glass. Not only does it make text bigger it adds contrast – you can turn text which is hard to read into a strong yellow on a black background or choose one of a number of colour combinations. There are options to help with dyslexia and colour blindness. As, like 10% of men, I am colour blind I particularly like this one and was pleased to see it win in what was probably the toughest category. A lot of thought has gone into the app which is designed to be as universally accessible as possible, ; the buttons are larger and higher contrast than the usual Android recommendations, with large simple zoom in / zoom out buttons rather than the complex motor demands of pinching or dragging. You can find out more at the 232studios website.
In the Mobility category the winner was Wheelmap by Sozialhelden. This is a database and map which allows wheelchair users to rate the accessibility of different locations and then share that information. They already have 180,000 places mapped. Sites are marked with a colour code:
- Grey: the accessibility status is unknown yet, someone needs to tag that place
- Green: the location is completely wheelchair friendly
- Yellow : you can access the location, but not the toilet (if given)
- Red:– the location is not accessible with a wheelchair, e.g. having some steps at the entrance
At first you tend to think that this is just a web app being repurposed as a mobile application, but there is significant value in being able to update the data when you are actually at the place you are rating.
There is a lot happening in the area of wellbeing in the mobile industry with a number of fitness products but the winner in the Wellbeing category was more aimed at a consumer need. Help Talk by 1000 Empresas is an app for directed at people who cannot communicate easily with health professionals, family or any other person using speech or writing. The app shows a set of well organized commands; when the user taps each of the option, the Text-to-speech engine speaks the respective command. There are plans to customise the app for different types of user so that the actions are best suited for each disability. There is also an emergency SMS message otion where the user presses a single button to send a prepared text to to a pre-configured person and it includes the users location. With permission a registered user can also poll the application to find out where the phone is by sending a text message.
Awards were presented by the CEO of Vodafone, Vittorio Colao, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, and Rodolfo Cattani, European Disability Forum Executive Secretary. For quite a small event this is really rolling out the big guns. As the CEO of Vodafone, Vittorio Colao is one of the most powerful people in the mobile phone industry. Neelie Krowes is responsible for a good deal of the pan-European regulation for all aspects of digital communication, she’s been listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. The European Disability Forum is the interface between 80 million Europeans with disabilities and the businesses and governments that seek to meet their needs. Or perhaps more importantly those businesses and governments which don’t seek to meet their needs and ought to.
Vodafone has a great record of Corporate Social Responsibility, with lots of initiatives around the world. It’s a huge company – which vies with BP for being the UK’s largest and it’s refreshing to find that it takes that responsibility not just well but with pleasure. All the dignitaries had an air of enjoying themselves. This wasn’t just turning up at a bash to be seen to be doing good. It made them feel good to be there. I’ve been to a lot of Vodafone events, including CSR ones, and they are always professional but this one had a special air. The best news of the evening was not who had won, or that Vodafone was doing it, but that Vodafone will be doing it again. So if you have an idea for a product with social good start working on it now.