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Modern Swiss Army Knife: Apps for Independence

Steve Ewell

Remember the independence you felt when you got your first car? Or the joy of receiving your first paycheck? As we age or if we have a disability that independence can become a challenge.
On top of hardware like smartphones and tablets resides a layer of mobile applications that can enhance our independence. In many cases, these are commonly used-apps being used in unexpected ways. For example, video communication apps such as Skype and Google Hangouts provide a visual connection for communication, enabling users to read lip movements or sign language for people with hearing loss, or simply pick up on body cues in conversations. For housebound individuals, these apps provide a critical connection to friends, family and caregivers. Other apps like Be My Eyes connect people with volunteer helpers via live video chat.
Our mobile devices are being repurposed as traditional assistive technology devices through augmentative alternative communication (AAC) apps – and doing so at a fraction of the price of traditional portable assistive technology. For example, TouchChat is an app that lets users speak when they have difficulty with their natural speech functions. Apps can also help manage activities of daily living-  keeping track of to-do lists, monitoring medication and tracking easy-to-lose everyday items like keys. Many of us already use these kinds of apps to manage our schedules, but as we age these programs can help us preserve our independence.
Given the growing number of apps released every day, it is difficult to identify which apps really meet the needs of this important audience. To further support the use of apps for independence in daily living, the CEA Foundation has made a commitment to support BridgingApps. This program, which is now a part of Easter Seals of Greater Houston, identifies the apps that reside on consumer technology devices and can enable life-changing independence. The program began with two parents of children who benefited from assistive apps. They set out to help  people of all ages looking to find apps that would meet their needs. The CEA Foundation is pleased to support an expansion of their program to meet this demand.

To learn more about all of the work that the CEA Foundation is doing to change lives on behalf of the consumer electronics industry and support our cause, check out
This year, I have the opportunity to speak with participants in this program at SXSW Interactive, in Austin, Texas. The session, “Modern Swiss Army Knife: Apps for Independence,” will take place Tuesday, March 17. Join us at SXSW. We’ll talk about the work of BridgingApps and address audience questions about accessibility and the ability of technology to change lives.