Smartphones open up a whole new world to people with visual impairments. In this blog AbilityNet's Head of Fundraising Rory Field talks about his experience with Fleksy, an app designed to make texting easier.
There are a few of us that post on our Facebook page, so I should let you know that I am partially sighted, registered blind. Yes, it may be a little odd to start an article like that, but the context will soon be clear. I’m sure everyone out there with visual impairments will know what I mean when I talk about typing on our phones. Smart phones really open a whole new world to us and there are different ways for us to input information. If you are like me, you use a combination of those methods. I have a Bluetooth keyboard that works fantastically well and is the main way of inputting information for me. It is however, not always appropriate – for example when walking or sitting for a short time, like when travelling and having to make changes every couple of minutes. So, I also combined this with voice input, either Siri or dictation.
Now at this point, I should probably say that I do have an iPhone and find it the most accessible phone for me. Having said that, there are many great phones out there on different operating systems.
Anyway, back to my blurb. Sometimes voice input is not appropriate either, such as in noisy environments. In these instances, I revert back to the onscreen keyboard, where I have my setting on touch type, which is a setting that allows you to drag and lift your finger rather than having to find and then double tap on the correct letter (I use voice over, to know what is on the screen). That is until yesterday!
I came across this fantastic free app called Fleksy. Again, if you, like me, know the onscreen keyboard pretty well, you know the approximate location of the letters, but don’t always put your finger on the correct key, perhaps the one next to or below it etc. Fleksy is intuitive based on the location of the keys on the keyboard. So, you type in the approximate locations of the letters and most often Fleksy is able to calculate the correct word. Here is another kicker for voice over users – it is all based on single taps! So if you for example want to type “Hi”, just tap twice; once where you think the ‘h’ is and once where you think the ‘I’ is. To make a space, simply swipe (with one finger!) to the right and the voice over will tell you what word has been put in. Even if you mistakenly hit ‘G’ and ‘I’, the word chosen is most likely to be ‘Hi’. If it is not correct, you can swipe down and a number of the next most likely options will appear. If in the unlikely event none of the answers are correct, you can swipe left and the word will be deleted and you can retype that word. I played around with it for a couple of hours last night, and in that time I had one word that I needed to delete and go back on. It really made it so much faster, quite unbelievable. You really should try it to believe it.
Have a look at Fleksy's Video: http://youtu.be/MhzHyHLIg4g
You can very easily do punctuation, simply by swiping right for a second time. The default punctuation is a full stop, but if you swipe down, the other options are there. Fleksy checks out the names that you have in your contacts, so if you type names, it can match likelihoods to ones that you have in your contacts. You can switch to a number keypad by touching in the bottom left corner and it interacts very well with other functions on your phone. Whilst I was playing around with it, it interacted very well with my voice over. In addition to this, a two fingered swipe up will bring up the menu, where amongst other things you will find options for Facebook, Twitter, email etc. So, open the app, type your text, swipe up with two fingers and decide what you want to do with the text!
There is more you can do with Fleksy; this is just what comes to mind from my little play around with it last night. There is also a very handy little summary guide in about eight lines when you open Fleksy, so no need to be apprehensive. As I said near the beginning, this app is free. I think it is fantastic for visually impaired people, and I am sure that other people who don’t always hit the right letter when typing on that little onscreen keyboard will also benefit from it. The app is currently available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad; watch this space as I stole the word currently from elsewhere, so it may be available on other platforms soon.