A Real Page-Turner
Spinal cord injury, stroke, and hundreds of congenital and acquired disorders impair the use of hands--an essential body part for using touch-screen technology. A handful of apps are switch-accessible, but these consist mainly of AAC apps and some early childhood books and games (Jane Farrell keeps a list here). For all other apps, these users are out of luck for now. However, there is at least one app that shows potential for readers.
MagicReader is a free, ad-supported app for iPad released by the Japanese developer GimmiQ about a year ago. The app uses the iPad's camera to recognize a face, and then track head movement, allowing users to turn the pages of books. The app currently only supports PDF files and compressed comic book files (there are several comics available free in-app), but the developer promises to support more formats soon. After importing a PDF through iTunes or email, you need to find the right distance and lighting to optimize the facial recognition. Once the app reliably finds your face, it is fairly simple to turn the pages forward and back with a turn of the head, even while wearing clear glasses. Two blue stars at the top light up when the app has found your face, letting you know you can turn your head to turn the page. Looking upwards navigates in and out of the library.
The uses for disability populations is currently limited in that the app requires a 45 degree turn of the head rather than tracking only eye movements. Of course users will still need assistance in opening the app unless they have a more sophisticated set-up. When I first used the app, it took some time to find just the right distance, head turn speed, and lighting conditions for reliable turning, and sometimes the pages flipped when I wasn't ready or just looked up from the tablet. I tend to read a lot of PDF files, but most people read e-books, which are not yet supported.
When the iPad is mounted on a wheelchair or supported on a stand, this app could be of great use to many people. For stroke survivors who can hold the device in one hand, they can now use their heads to turn the page instead of setting it down to touch the screen. The description recommends the app for those reading recipes while cooking, musicians turning sheet music, parents reading while holding babies, and even people reading while eating.
This app may be useful in your practice now, but more than that, I think it shows the potential for alternative means of accessing tablet technology. Given that the app's FAQ states a paid version is coming, it's probably worthwhile to download MagicReader now while it's free.