FEATURES


There's an App for That

By Kathleen Hatt




There are many weather apps available for the iPad.
Photos by Kathleen Hatt unless otherwise noted.

Maybe you're having trouble deciphering the tiny writing on the grain bag, or your hearing just isn't what it used to be. Maybe you need to quickly figure out which heifers need vet checks. Technology can help with all of these and more.

Apps - those nifty pieces of software designed to run on smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices - can do much more than amuse or make quick work of life's little annoyances. Apps are indispensable for anyone living and farming with a disability, defined as any physical, visual, auditory or cognitive limitation that impacts the ability to perform one or more activities of daily living. For example, VisionAssist is an app that magnifies text and can present background colors that contrast with text color, making the text easier to read.

Device advice

Apps are written for most smartphones and tablets. Therese Willkomm, Ph.D., ATP, clinical assistant professor in the University of New Hampshire Department of Occupational Therapy and director of ATinNH (Assistive Technology in New Hampshire), is an expert on assistive technology. She personally uses hundreds of apps and recommends iPads. "Apple has more apps to support people with disabilities than either Windows or Android tablets," she says. "[The] iPad is a tool to access and manage information, to save time, and to help with vision and hearing. Make your use more efficient by learning keyboard shortcuts and by using iPad's built-in features, such as its microphone, Siri, Zoom and ability to increase font size."

Following are some of the apps Willkomm recommends.

Help with hearing

For farmers who are deaf or hard of hearing, she recommends EARs, which amplifies the sounds you want to hear. It can be useful in situations ranging from listening in noisy meetings to watching television at home.

To screen hearing and help determine whether or not you might be a candidate for a hearing aid, check out uHear. A third app, Decibel 10th, measures noise levels that might place you at risk for hearing loss and tells you when you should be wearing hearing protection.



Left, The reQall app helps you remember tasks. Right, To screen hearing and help determine whether or not you might be a candidate for a hearing aid, check out uHear.
Photos courtesy of Therese Willkomm.

Cognitive limitations and memory

Stroke, traumatic brain injury or aging can impact the ability to perform daily activities. To help with remembering things, Willkomm suggests VReminder (VoiceReminder). Use the app to record instructions, and your iPad will remind you of the task at the time you specify. The VoCal and QuickVoice apps perform the same task.

Whether or not you have difficulty remembering, Priority Matrix is useful in organizing and color-coding to-do lists by category. For example, your to-do list could be sorted by tasks associated with categories like buildings, herds and crops. Priority Matrix syncs with the cloud, so it can be accessed from any tablet or computer. The app also makes it possible to forward only one category; for example, you could forward just the blue herds to-do list to your herdsman.

Reading difficulties

For people who have difficulty reading, or for those whose eyes must be on the task at hand, the iPad has a built-in solution: It can read to you. Begin by using the Accessibility feature and enabling Speak Selection or use VoiceOver. VoiceOver is operated with specific gestures that involve using one or more fingers to drag, tap, flick or rotate on the track pad. For instructions on using VoiceOver, visit http://bit.ly/1c7AlsL.

The iPad can read anything from emails to entire books. Use Voice Dream to have articles read to you. "Voice Dream is a must-have app," says Willkomm. "It will read any document on Dropbox." Dropbox is like a hard drive, but in the cloud rather than on your device.

OverDrive, a free app available through libraries, enables you to select and listen to over 1 million audio books from over 1,000 publishers. Readers tend to be trained actors who use a range of voices to portray various characters. At least 10 other apps - some free, others paid - will read books to you.

Fine motor skills

Tablets are useful where grasping, finger isolation (resulting in not being able to hit an intended key), or the inability to type on a keyboard are issues. "For people with tremors in their hands or people with Parkinson's, iPads provide the option of either tapping on the screen or using the iPad's built-in microphone. By using these features together with voice recognition, people can type or access apps and information on the Internet," Willkomm explains.



Left, Decibel 10th is an app that measures noise levels, thereby alerting you to the need for ear protection. Right, EARs amplifies the sounds you want to hear. It can be useful in a variety of situations

The power of speech

If you're unable to speak due to a stroke or other neurological impairment, you can use an app to speak for you. Hundreds of apps are available, and many of them use pictures or word prediction. Word prediction speeds up communication so you don't have to type every word. Alternative communication apps that use word prediction include Predictable, Speak it! and Proloquo2Go.

Versatility

"The beauty of [the] iPad is that it makes it possible for all farmers to track information and apply it instantly," says Willkomm. "You can make quick management decisions using an app and its push notification feature to let you know when the price of one of your crops rises. For instance, when you are notified that the price of corn has gone up, you can make an immediate decision to sell."

Using a weather app, you can see fronts coming in and decide what needs to be done in, say, the 20 minutes before rain is due.

Use your iPad for marketing. Take a photo of your beautiful ripe blueberries while you're in the field and instantly send the photo to your customers. There are also apps for farmers' markets. You enter information about the products you'll be taking to market. Potential customers enter their home zip code and the types of produce they want. Then they'll receive information about farmers in their area who have what they're looking for, as well as when and where they will be at farmers' markets. "This app is very helpful in that it shortcuts retail selling," says Willkomm.

To use an iPad in the field,w you will need a data plan. Data plans start at about $15 a month. To save money, sign up for month-by-month service rather than yearly and discontinue service after harvest, when you're more likely to access information from your home or office than from the field.

When you're working out of range of a cellphone tower, you can still utilize your iPad to listen to previously downloaded information or music.

Protecting your iPad

Since iPads are sensitive to moisture, they need to be protected in the field. A low-cost method suggested by Willkomm: Insert it into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and fold the excess plastic bag over the back and secure it with packing tape. If you find that audio is unclear because it picks up the sound of the plastic bag moving, cut a small hole in the area over the microphone.



In the field, use a Ziploc freezer bag to protect your iPad from moisture.

This is just one of 50 different ways to adapt the iPad that Willkomm describes in her new book, "Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes II: Ordinary Items, Extraordinary Solutions," which can be found at http://bit.ly/1ev05VQ.

Where to begin

There is no need to struggle alone - help is available. Check your public library for local help or to find an iPad 101 course or iPad Boot Camp. (In New Hampshire, iPad Boot Camp for people with disabilities is taught by the UNH Institute on Disability.)



Therese Willkomm, Ph.D., helps farmers use technology to farm more efficiently.

A list of agriculture-related apps is available at http://bit.ly/1eC2i0f.

"Appy" hours, where people come together for a social hour and to share apps, are springing up all over the country in pubs, coffeehouses, and other gathering places.

Willkomm concludes, "Apps - they're 'appsolutely' amazing!"

Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and has been a frequent contributor to Farming since 1998. She resides in Henniker, N.H.