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About apps

 Here we list useful information about apps in general: what they are and how to use them safely.

What are apps and where do I get them?

An app (short for ‘application’) is software which gives your smartphone, computer, laptop or tablet extra functions and allows it to do something it couldn’t do before. As the technology advances, there are now all sorts of apps suitable for deaf people for everything from leisure and entertainment to work and daily communications.

Apps can be downloaded from various app stores. If you're using a smartphone, you'll see that the app store you need is already installed on the phone.

  • iPhones have the App Store
  • Android phones have Google Play
  • Blackberry phones have BlackBerry App World
  • Windows Phones have the Windows Phone Store
Tips for choosing and using apps safely

Here we list some top tips for choosing apps and using them safely:

  • Check which devices the app works on and which version of the operating system it requires.
    For example, an app may be available on iOS, but might only work on an iPad (not an iPhone) and it may require the most recent version of iOS. This information is always given with the app’s details in the relevant app store.

  • Check the app’s suitability for your device.
    For example, an alerting app which uses vibrations will only be useable on a device which has a vibrate function.

  • Check the app is suitable for its purpose.
    For example, check that ‘sign language apps’ refer to specifically to British Sign Language (BSL).

  • Read reviews from other customers. Reviews may be available on the app store, or you could Google it to see what others are saying.

  • Download the free or ‘lite’ version of the app first. ‘Lite’ versions of apps usually have advertisements or feature a small portion of the full content of the paid app, but they can give a good indication of what the paid app can offer.

  • There may be the option for ‘in-app purchases’ within an app, for example to buy a full version, a game or an associated product. To ensure that you or your child don’t (accidentally) buy this added extra, set your device so that you need to enter a password to confirm a purchase. 

  • Many apps, particularly those for social networking platforms, give you an online presence and the potential to interact with a wide range of people. Make sure you know exactly what access to online content, and to other users, the app gives.
    For example: entertainment apps, such as BBC iPlayer, have a range of content available, some of which may not be suitable for all users. You may want to learn about parental controls, so you can take steps to reduce the chances of accessing unsuitable content.

  • Follow the advice from the National Deaf Children's Society and the NSPCC to be aware of security issues, learn how to deal with any issues and make sure you are protected.
Guided access

Guided Access is a parental control function only available on Apple mobile devices. It allows you to lock your Apple smartphone or tablet onto a single app and lets you control which parts or features of that app are available whilst the Guided Access feature is enabled.

Guided Access helps a user to focus on a task while using an Apple smartphone or tablet and is especially useful for parents who want to restrict their child’s access to other apps, unsuitable content or in-app purchases.

You can use Guided Access to:

  • Temporarily restrict your iOS device to a single app – so a user (for example a young child) won’t be able to swipe out of the app by accident
  • Disable areas of the screen - for example, so that your child can’t accidentally close the app, access other areas of the app (such as inappropriate content on a video player like BBC iPlayer) or make in-app purchases
  • Disable the hardware buttons, such as the volume, home or on/off button, which younger children might play with or accidentally press

The Apple website provides more information on Guided Access and other accessibility features available on iOS.

Choosing a tablet

Here we list some useful features to look out for when buying a tablet for you or your deaf child:

  • Forward facing camera
    This allows you or your deaf child to use video-calling applications such as FaceTime and Skype to have video conversations. If two users have a forward- facing camera or webcam, they can see each other to be able to sign or lip-read.

  • Screen resolution
    A higher screen resolution means that there is a higher density of pixels across the screen, so images will look sharper and clearer. This might be particularly relevant for watching TV programmes, having video chats or using apps with lots of visual content. 

  • Built-in microphone
    A built-in microphone is useful for video chats but could also be beneficial if using speech-to-text (voice recognition) apps. These apps turn spoken word into text that can be viewed on the tablet’s screen.

  • Sound quality and volume
    Good quality sound and a loud enough volume are important when using the tablet for calls or video chats. This is especially important when using the tablet without products such as speakers or extra loud headphones. 

  • Mono audio
    Some devices give the option to enable ‘mono’ audio. This means that both left and right audio channels are played together through one side of a headphone or earpiece. For users with better hearing in one ear, mono audio can increase their listening experience.

  • 3.5mm output socket
    An output socket allows you to connect headphones, neckloops or other listening devices to the tablet. For listening to music, watching TV and films, or for a range of other applications, there are many products which could be connected to your tablet using this socket. 

  • Size and weight
    The size of the device is important to consider, particularly for younger users or those with additional needs such as visual, physical or motor impairments. Larger tablets may be easier to see and navigate on-screen, but are heavier and can be harder to carry.

  • Bluetooth
    Bluetooth allows you to wirelessly link your tablet to a range of listening accessories. These can make it easier for you to talk to others or enjoy games and entertainment. These accessories include streamers, Bluetooth neckloops and Bluetooth wireless headphones

  • Internet
    As standard, tablet devices are able to connect to the internet via a Wi-Fi connection. Some tablets also offer connectivity through mobile 3G and 4G signals. If the tablet is intended for use while out and about or for tasks which require the tablet always to be connected, then this type of tablet may be appropriate. 

Smartwatches are a ‘wearable technology': they are small, portable and designed to connect with other devices or sensors. Here we focus on smartwatches that work like a smartphone. Smartwatches can give you notifications if you receive a call, text or email, for example. Smartwatches can also help to organise your day if you choose to make to-do lists or set reminders. You can reply to messages by voice or text and some even let you make calls using the watch. Their uses are expanding by the day, as more and more apps are developed for them.

How could a smartwatch help a deaf young person?

The key built-in feature which could help deaf young people is the ability to provide visual and tactile notifications on the wrist. For example, it can vibrate when you receive a call, text or social media message on your smartphone. There are a range of apps (such as alerting and communication apps) designed to be used with smartwatches which could be beneficial. There are already specialist apps available for deaf smartwatch users.

How does a smartwatch work?

Most smartwatches need to be paired with a smartphone, because they do not have their own SIM card. They communicate with the phone using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. However, some are able to function independently. Smartwatches can also be paired with a tablet device.

Smartwatches run on an operating system and because they work with your smartphone or tablet device they will need to run a compatible operating system. For example, an Apple Watch is compatible with recent iPhones, and Pebble watches have an operating system that is compatible with both iPhones and Android smartphones. 

Features to look for when choosing a smartwatch for someone with a hearing loss:

  • User interface
    This is what the watch face or screen looks like. Smartwatches can be operated using a touch screen, voice control, gestures, button or dials. Many use a combination of these. How exactly smartwatches are operated differs between makes and models of smartwatches, so consider your or your deaf child's preferred way of communication when choosing a watch.

  • Screen type
    The screens themselves can differ considerably on smartwatches, with each offering the wearer a different experience. You may have a preference for a particular display, depending on how you plan to use your smartwatch. For example, when using the watch to make video-calls, the Apple Watch features a bright ‘Retina Display’ screen and the Pebble watch has an e-paper screen – similar to a Kindle reader. An e-paper screen is a low-energy screen, ideal for viewing text. A brighter screen gives access to clear and vibrant colours, but will use far more battery power.

  • Screen resolution
    When comparing smartwatch specifications, you may want to compare screen resolution. A higher screen resolution means that there is a higher density of pixels across the screen, so images will look sharper and clearer. This could be important if you are using your smartwatch to look at photos, reply to emails, or as a navigation device using an app such as Google Maps.

  • Vibration alert
    This is a key feature for a deaf user and gives you vibration alerts on your wrist. Most smartwatches have this feature, but it’s worth checking before you make your choice. Also try to compare the strength of vibration between models.

  • Microphone
    A built-in microphone which allows the watch to be controlled by voice commands might be helpful. As more apps are developed, a built-in microphone may also become relevant for text-to-speech apps such as Dragon Dictation, which transcribes speech into text in real time.

  • Speaker
    Some smartwatches have a built-in speaker, so the watch can also give audio alerts. This can be used with apps which allow you to pre-record set sentences to play out loud from the watch. This could be useful in an emergency.

  • Camera
    Some smartwatches have a built-in camera which allows users to take photos. As more apps are developed this might become a really useful feature in video chatting apps, for example.