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Apps from Young Indian Developers Aim to Fix Colour Blindness, Dyslexia, Speech Issues

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Young Indian developers have a new target genre in the field of purpose-driven apps – accessibility. From one that seeks to help tackle colour blindness, to another that was inspired from the founder’s struggles with stammering, these accessibility apps seek to make a real world difference. While there are mixed usage reactions to each, these apps are taking on issues such as dyslexia and stammering — and while a medical certification is not in sight, general user feedback pegs them as accessibility aids that are affordable for most, especially in comparison to conventional clinical consultations and treatment procedures. One key point to glean from these young Indian developers has been the use of simplified design and approachable interfaces, which they are using to appeal to a significantly wide user base.

Data from the Colour Blind Awareness Organisation states that as of 2019, there were almost 30 crore people in the world (almost one-fourth of India’s population) who suffered from some form of colour blindness. For dyslexia, it’s even more common — the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE), a 76-year-old English organisation, states that over 70 crore people around the world have, at some point, suffered from it. Stammering, too, has similarly large occurrence — the non-profit Stuttering Foundation states that almost 80 percent of all children around the world have some levels of stammering issues at some point, which translates to over 7 crore people around the world facing it as adults.

Cone and its efforts against colour blindness

One unifying factor behind the work done by all of these young Indian developers is the use of everyday technologies (such as a smartphone or a smartwatch) to resolve these issues. Built out of developer Kushagra Agarwal’s own necessity to fight colour blindness, Cone (available only on Apple devices for now) was built to help users easily detect the actual colour of a surface by simply pointing their phones at it. Over time, the data could even be used to understand source colours more intuitively.

Cone was created with support from the Apple AVFoundation, a framework that developers can use to render colour performances such as HDR and Dolby Vision into audio-visual projects. This framework, coupled with Agarwal’s inability to distinguish between raw and ripened mangoes at home, helped create a visual engine for colour production to aid those suffering from colour blindness. The app, however, faced early constraints that many other colour blindness accessibility apps also face.

“People, mostly from Reddit’s r/colorblind community, were sceptical about Cone’s accuracy because of two problems in existing apps — inaccurate color readings in different lighting conditions, and the tendency for apps to read only a single pixel value,” Agarwal said. To fix these issues, Cone uses a colour temperature control algorithm which ensures accuracy of colour tone in any lighting condition — an important empirical value to establish. It also aggregates colour tones around a point of an object to state which colour is being detected. This is important, as the colour information in a single pixel may not always be the exact colour that the naked human eye sees.

The addition of these technologies have seemingly helped Agarwal, and Cone is today both a licensee of Pantone and a part of the Apple App Store Small Business programme. The app is a paid service available only on iOS, iPadOS and watchOS, and costs Rs 449. Even though adoption has been somewhat niche — Sensor Tower data indicates less than 5,000 downloads since its launch on the App Store in April 2017, Cone has so far reported almost 81 percent positive ratings from its paying customers.

Stamurai and its speech therapy offerings

Built by three IIT Delhi graduates, Stamurai is a free to download app that’s available on both Android and iOS, and is one of the most popular accessibility apps built by young, independent developers. The app has been featured on the App Store recently by Apple, and is also seeing considerable attention from Android users, too — Google pegs Stamurai at over 50,000 downloads right now, and Sensor Tower states the app has crossed the 5,000 downloads mark.

Stamurai offers its users features such as live, virtual support groups, ‘accountability’ partners’ and a membership plan for corrective speech therapy that users can subscribe to, beyond the free features available in the app. It charges users Rs 349 per month for a ‘gold’ membership, and Rs 3,349 for an accountability partner who can be accessed for personal consultations directly through the app. In effect, it makes the process for availing speech therapy and counseling far more streamlined and accessible, even if one wants to refrain from subscribing to any of the membership plans within it.

The founders, Anshul Agarwal, Harsh Tyagi and Meet Singhal, claim that the idea to develop Stamurai came along when Singhal and Agarwal, who both stuttered, were looking to help each other with their speeches. The key for the app, the developers claim, are video guidance sessions on speech therapy, self-help tools to implement speech strategies, and the promotion of support groups and communities within the app. Stamurai initially launched on Android in February 2017, and more recently, on iOS in February 2020.

Since its release, the developers state that support from Apple’s user experience (UI/UX) team has helped refine it, while similar support from the App Store Machine Learning (ML) team has helped improve the tech stack. The app presently ranks with a widely positive rating, with 85 percent of user ratings on iOS being 5-star, and 75 percent of them being the same on Android as well.

Augmenta11y and its dyslexia reader

Developer Tushar Gupta’s Augmenta11y (pronounced ‘Augmentally’) aims to resolve the plight of the dyslexic reader — something that can be crippling in certain circumstances, not just for the young age group suffering from it, but for those around as well. With a fairly simplified interface, Augmenta11y has a simplified reader mode that offers strategic backgrounds to improve focus, contrast tweaking for backgrounds, multiple font options with fine tweaks such as letter and line spacings, and voice read-outs as well.

All of this, Gupta claims, has been compiled from open-source research material on dyslexia. Gupta and his fellow researchers claim to have conducted a ‘published research’, from which he claims that Augmenta11y accounts for “21 percent improved reading times as compared to paper based textbooks.” Co-developer Mudita Sisodia has also detailed the development rationale behind the app in a blog post on the young developers’ backing organisation, Oswald Labs.

After its 2019 release, the AR app is yet to take the flight of popularity. Augmenta11y has crossed 5,000 downloads on the Google Play Store, while Sensor Tower data claims it still stands at below 5,000 on the iOS App Store. What could help each of these apps in further growth are medical certifications to back up resources that each of Cone, Stamurai and Augmenta11y have on offer.

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