Smartphone Apps and Features for People with Disabilities

Resource list provided by Orion ISO and reprinted with permission

It’s no secret that smartphones are much more than just communication tools. The devices make people’s lives easier, more productive and more fun. For individuals with disabilities, smartphones are actually changing the way they live. Smartphones are being used as assistive technology devices, allowing people to live more independently, communicate more effectively and increase their quality of life.

There are many benefits to using a smartphone for assistive technology purposes. The devices are small and can be taken anywhere. They are socially acceptable and used by the mainstream. They are loaded with accessibility options that people with and without disabilities use and love. The phones as well as the applications are relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to other assistive technology devices. Many smartphone apps are even free.

Orion ISO has created a list of some of the most popular and helpful smartphone apps and features for people with disabilities.

Visual and Hearing Impairments

Color ID and Color Identifier - Using the smartphone’s camera to identify colors, both these applications enable people with visual impairments to coordinate their wardrobes and interpret the limited light and images they may be able to see.

Explore-by-Touch Mode - By dragging a finger across the phone when in this mode, users can hear audible commands of content. This “virtual cursor” allow individuals with a visual impairment to hear descriptions of content without seeing the screen. This feature also eliminates the need for physical buttons, which can present problems for individuals with limited dexterity.

Learn Braille Alphabet - Good for those beginning to learn the Braille alphabet, this app uses games and basic interface to explain the different Braille symbols.

LookTel Money Reader - This app recognizes U.S. currency and speaks the denomination out loud, enabling people who are blind or visually impaired to identify and count bills.

SoundAMP - SoundAMP turns your phone into a listening device. By plugging in headphones and launching the application, individuals who are hard of hearing can experience increased sound. Users benefit from “boost” mode, which amplifies higher frequency sounds, and a “zoom” mode, which reduces background sound levels.

Voice Dream Reader - This text to speech app is very comprehensive. It can either read aloud messages for those with visual impairment, or interpret spoken words into text for those with hearing impairments.

Walkie-Talkie and Intersection Explorer - Both these Google driven apps help people with visual impairments navigate unfamiliar streets and communities. Both apps sync with Google Maps to deliver directions in spoken instructions based on the user’s location.

Physical Disabilities

Parking Mobility - When users enter the map function they can view accessible parking spots, share accessible spots not listed on the map, and suggest locations that would benefit from accessible parking. Users can even report abusers of accessible parking to the authorities and then send ticket revenues to charities across the country.

Dynamic Controls - Turns an iPhone into a remote control for wheelchairs. It connects to the chair over Bluetooth to allow the rider to control several aspects of the chair through an intuitive interface.

Communication, Social Skills and Autism

Autism Tracker Pro - Uses a visual calendar to track and chart patterns over time, from mood to behavior to health to food.

AutismXpress - Created to help promote greater awareness about autism spectrum disorders, this app It is designed to encourage people with autism to recognize and express their emotions through its fun and easy to use interface.

Between the Lines – This app is designed for primary (elementary) school students through young adults who would benefit from practice interpreting vocal intonation, facial expressions, perspective-taking, body language, and idiomatic or slang expressions. There are three levels available – Level 1, 2 and Advanced. Between the Lines uses real photographs, voices and short mini-video clips of a variety of social situations and expressions. This app provides a dynamic way to help learn and practice interpreting the messages that are “between the lines” and simply can’t be replicated with worksheets and static flashcards.

BIG Launcher - This app provides an oversized, simplistic presentation style, by increasing the size of text and placing applications on the Home Screen in colorful square boxes. It also has a large “S.O.S.” button which allows the user to call a pre-determined phone number or send an emergency text message with G.P.S. coordinates. All functions can be customized for ideal visibility and use.

Community Success – This app helps students with developmental disabilities including autism, prepare for community outings and eventual independence by helping them master a myriad of social interactions. For example, what do you say to a store clerk or who gets off an elevator first? It also requires execution of step-by-step sequences: find crosswalk, push “walk,” wait for “walk” sign, stay in crosswalk. Information is made accessible through video modeling, photo-based directions, talking stories, and vivid illustrations of social behaviors. This is available in computer software or as an iPad app.

Conversation Builder – This app is designed to help elementary aged children learn how to have multi-exchange conversations with their peers in a variety of social settings. The auditory pattern of conversation is presented in a visual format to help students recognize and master the flow of conversation. Students learn when it is appropriate to introduce themselves, ask questions, make observations and change the subject of the conversation. 

Conversation TherAppy – This app is an open-ended speech and language tool designed for use with 9 year olds to adults. The app contains sets of pictures organized into categories, such as family, health, safety and problems. Users can use the photos to jump start a variety of conversations. The app presents a series of questions about each photo that can be turned on or off, according to the needs of each user. Question types that can be filtered are describe, define, remember, decide, feel, infer, predict, narrate, evaluate, and brainstorm. 

Difficult Situations Fun Deck – This educational app has 56 illustrated picture flash cards (plus audio of each card’s text). Users can select the cards they want to use in order to teach and discuss safety, and talk about feelings and emotions as they learn how to react and solve problems quickly in a variety of stressful situations. The prompts include situations like, “Someone at school is bullying you and won’t stop,” and “Someone calls your house when you are alone and asks to speak to your mom.” 

Grace - Picture Exchange for Non-Verbal People – Helps children with autism and other special needs to communicate effectively by building semantic sequences from relevant images to form sentences. The app can be easily customized by using picture and photo vocabulary of the user’s choice. This app supports consistency in communication, independence and helps build social skills. 

i Get….Going to a Restaurant – This interactive app helps users with developmental disabilities navigate the experience of going to a restaurant by using vocabulary photo books and a social skills story. Each page of the book can be individualized for the user by importing personal photos, add text and audio. 

Kid In Story Book Maker - Places the child as the main character in one of several stories, helping him or her to understand appropriate social behaviors. Using the devices camera, the child can be superimposed into the tale, and then uses one’s own voice to narrate the story.

Proloquo2Go - By offering text-to-speech voices and up to 8,000 up-to-date symbols for people with limited dexterity, Proloquo2go is a communication solution for people who have difficulty speaking,

iConverse - This app is geared for young children and other individuals with communicative disabilities to communicate basic needs. Users can click on icons representing six basic everyday needs (bathroom, drink, food, sick, break and help) to help others understand their needs.

Read to Learn – An interactive literacy and life skills app that features three heavily illustrated, interactive books with age-appropriate themes: life skills reader, safety skills reader and focus on feelings. These books feature 85 unique stories, each with graded comprehension exercises. All text is spoken by professional narrators and highlighted as its read. Readers can touch any word at any time to hear it pronounced, and are given a definition for especially pertinent vocabulary. Available through Attainment Company or through iTunes.

Social Success – This app is an interactive social skill tutorial for adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities, including autism. It covers 50 social skills in an easy-to-navigate interface, so students can work independently or in self-directed groups. Each skill has five activities: Intro, Steps, Self-Talk, Movie, and Problem Solving. Available as Win/Mac software or on iTunes.

StoryBuilder – A reading app designed to help children improve paragraph formation, integration of ideas and higher level abstractions by inference. This app uses audio clips to promote improved auditory processing for special needs children with autism spectrum disorders or sensory processing disorders. Story Builder offers a rich and fun environment for improving the ability to create a narrative. 

Text-to-Speech - By typing a phrase into the “dictate” box, users can hear words spoken aloud through the smartphone speaker. This communication tool enables individuals with limited speech or non-verbal individuals to effectively communicate with their peers.

Tap to Talk - This app turns the device into an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device, allowing the user to click on words or symbols to verbally communicate with others. It’s especially helpful for people with autism or cerebral palsy, as well as any speech-preventing condition.

TouchChat HD - This app uses pictograms to help individuals construct sentences. TouchChat has seven English-speaking voices, and sentences can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, text message and email.


My Emergency Info - Just as its name suggests, this app holds all the necessary info to get in touch with an individual’s emergency contact or their doctor. It also holds vital medical information such as allergies and medications.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Reference - This app helps users navigate the cumbersome and detailed info of the ADA in order to know their rights and make sure they are being treated fairly.

Orion ISO provides financial management services, including fiscal intermediary services, to individuals with disabilities and the elderly in Minnesota.