OverLay – a New App making accessible information easy to make and share

Posted August 9, 2011

Imagine arriving at a new shopping mall and asking for information. The staff member passes you a tray with a simple tactile paper map of the mall on top. This map already has large font and Braille text with tactile symbols.

As you pass a finger across the map: you can then press once on each shop’s tactile symbol and it reads out the shop name.

You want some more information on a particular shop: so you double tap on the shop symbol and it reads it out.

You need some additional information on accessibility and assistance at that shop: so you swipe your finger on the same shop symbol and it reads that out too.

When you have finished finding out where you want to go that day; you take the simple tactile paper map with you and go shopping.

Imagine the same opportunity at an historic building, a hospital, a museum or in a city centre.

It is about access to combined tactile and audio information that enables you to choose how much information you want at that time and then gives you a map to use when moving around independently.

All of this is now possible using a new app called OverLay. It combines simple, cheap tactile printed-paper with Apple’s iPad and its advanced audio and touch screen systems. It is available now on the App Store.Acuity Design iPad running OverLay app in red tray with OverLay instruction sheet lying on top

OverLay is an Apple iPad app created by Alastair Somerville of Acuity Design, a UK-based accessible communication consultancy.

The app allows multi-layered audio with simple printed media, including standard paper, embossed paper and swell print paper.

The graphics and text on the printed media are replicated on the iPad screen in the OverLay app. It is this direct relationship between the physical paper and the virtual touch screen buttons, or hotspots as they’re termed, that enables audio to be linked and played back when a user presses on any specified place on the paper (and thus through to the screen).

Acuity Design takes the graphics and text that organizations and people want to use and mix them into a special data file that combines visual graphics, tactile hotspot button positions and up to three different levels of text for each hotspot. Each file is easy to edit and adapt to provide up to date or personalized information when needed.

By making it simple, cheap and quick to create OverLay files, Acuity Design are showing how accessible information is something any organization can provide when and where people need it. Using the iPad makes it affordable to many organizations because they can buy it and use it for many other purposes as well as an accessibility system with OverLay.

OverLay is an exciting app since it is a general tool for making tactile and audio information available to whoever wants and needs it. Other uses include:

  • In education, it can provide learning materials for reading, mathematics and science assistance and practice for people with visual impairements, learning difficulties and dyslexia.
  • At home, it can be used to make tactile graphic picture stories and games for sharing.

More information on OverLay is available on the web at www.overlayapp.com and Acuity Design can be contacted by email at info@acuitydesign.eu, on Skype at crownnail or by phone on 00 44 7808 480749.