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Student-based software company launches app for the blind

Managing Editor

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 13:01


Rachel Ford | The Parthenon

Ricky Kirkendall and Sam McLaughlin, co-founders of FloCo Apps, work on coding a new project.

FloCo Apps, a software development company co-founded by a Marshall student, recently launched an app for the American Foundation for the Blind.

FloCo Apps was founded in part by Ricky Kirkendall, junior computer science major from Charleston, in 2011. Kirkendall worked with his friends Logan Spears and Sam McLaughlin who are both students at West Virginia University, and both originally from Charleston.

Kirkendall, Spears and McLaughlin have made 12 apps in nearly two years of operation.

“We like to be on the cutting edge of things,” McLaughlin said. “We like to do what’s new and we like to look at where the market’s going and try it.”

The new app, called AccessNote, is a note taking application and is one of two major projects FloCo has completed for the American Foundation for the Blind.

“I’ve always wanted a product like AccessNote,” said Darren Burton, Project Manager at Technical Evaluation Services for the American Foundation of the Blind. “Around the time I met Ricky, we got a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to investigate in making accessible apps for blind people on mobile phones, so it was nice timing.”

Kirkendall, McLaughlin and Spears began working on the app in early 2012, about a year after beginning operation as a company. “For the past decade or so, prior to the release of AccessNote, the most common note taking devices used by the blind were either in the style of thick, short QWERTY keyboards with an audio output,” Kirkendall said. Braille versions of this device were also frequently used.

Burton said the old note taking devices, although helpful and very powerful, were just keyboards with no screen, and very expensive.

“I find that AccessNote is going to be very helpful in a work or classroom setting,” Burton said.

“The disadvantages to these things that have been around for a long time is they are very expensive,” Kirkendall said. “Anytime Braille is involved, you’re talking $2,000 or more, which is added on to the base price of at least $1,000.”

Kirkendall and the rest of the FloCo developers wanted to take the idea of the note taker and put them on a more recent and mainstream device available to more users at a cheaper price.

“We chose the iPhone because it is the most accessible product,” Kirkendall said.

FloCo took features already found within the iPhone operating system and developed the app around those features, such as the text-to-speech feature.

The app also uses the Apple wireless, bluetooth keyboard as a part of the user interface for AccessNote. The app however, will still work with Braille displays, if the user already has or prefers that.

“The keyboard costs about $70, so not counting the iPhone the user already has, this product will cost less than $100, versus the thousands they would spend in the past on a fully functional note taker,” Kirkendall said.

“Even if you don’t have an iPhone, the app will still work on an iPod Touch or iPad,” McLaughlin said.

Notes taken using AccessNote can easily be synched to a computer or other device by using Dropbox. Autosave is also a feature the FloCo staff thought to integrate, on the chance the app were to ever crash while in use.

“It integrates with a lot of features the phone already has,” Kirkendall said. “We built it with Dropbox, so it’s fully functional as far as the old note takers go.”

The app, however, is not currently compatible with iCloud, so users with Windows devices can still sync their documents to their computers without trouble.

AccessWorld, another app developed by FloCo for The American Foundation for the Blind is an online magazine that keeps readers up to date on everything AFB is doing nationwide. The app for the magazine helped increase readership and increased knowledge of what the American Foundation for the Blind does, Kirkendall said.

“One of the reasons why we like working with AFB is because we really feel like we’re making a difference,” Kirkendall said. “We want to keep what we’re doing meaningful.”

“We want to make things people need and are important,” McLaughlin said. “You can make another iPhone game or another flashlight app, but we want to make things that have purpose.”

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