App to bring back features that help local maintain independence | PostIndependent.com

App to bring back features that help local maintain independence

Kelli Rollin
krollin@postindependent.com

Kara Brouhard sat at her kitchen table, spooning cereal and slurping milk, as she heard, "Kara, time to finish up breakfast," from her iPad app.

At age 5, Kara suffered a traumatic brain injury in a skiing accident. Now in her 30s, she doesn't have a sense of time, but the app helps her keep on track and live independently.

Alice, Kara's mom, petitioned, emailed and called Apple Inc. for three years to get all of the Aida Organizer app's features compatible with new updates. The voice feature of Kara's app only works with iOS 5.x, so she hasn't been able to update anything, making things harder to function.

But the wait is nearly over, as Apple has agreed to allow the app to be compatible with the new software update, iOS 9, in the fall.

Apple contacted Alice after an April article in the Post Independent drew attention to the issue and the online petition she had started.

In an email, a spokesperson with Apple confirmed the update is coming with iOS 9.

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"I was flabbergasted," Alice said of when she heard the good news just last week. "I call it doing a happy dance; I was so excited."

"It came a lot sooner than I thought it would come," Jim, Kara's dad, said about waiting for a needed response from Apple. "I'm happy for the time and effort Alice has put into this."

Before having the 99-cent app on the iPad, Kara's parents spent more than $5,000 on software to give daily reminders to Kara to get through everyday life.

Without the app, Alice said Kara would have to have someone with her telling her what to do all the time. She said with no sense of time, Kara can spend hours eating breakfast, which doesn't fare well if she has other things to do that day.

"They become like the clock, like the inner voice in her head," Alice said about Kara's 50 daily reminders, which she set up connecting her iPad to Kara's.

Alice said she thankfully read all the changes before she was about to update Kara's iPad when she noticed the voice feature was gone. If she were to update it, Kara would also have to open the app whenever she wanted to see the reminder. In essence, Kara would have to leave the Aida app open at all times and not use the iPad for anything else if she updated to iOS 8.

Right now, the reminder goes off automatically in spite of whatever may be running on the iPad.

"That's too difficult," Alice said. "It's too many steps for her."

Apple didn't make the voice feature compatible with the current update because it wanted to use its own notification sounds. Alice said she doesn't think Apple really thought about the effects that could have on people like Kara.

"We educated Apple," she said.

Alice was in contact with the app developer, Sergio Licea, when trying to work on the issue. The fix was easy, just changing a few lines of code, but Apple had to approve it.

"Apple has done an excellent job with accessibility support," Licea said in an email about working out this problem. "It's a pleasure to be part of making a change on a person's life."

Alice spoke at conferences, and continues to do so, about the Aida Organizer app and how it can help those like Kara.

"Technology is life-changing for some people," Alice said. "I just want to educate others about how life-changing this could be."

She said Kara is legally blind and shouldn't be able to live on her own, but she's doing it. That was always Kara's goal.

"If she didn't have this app, she couldn't," Alice said. "In my mind, it's limitless what we can do when we get this function back. It's too important not to have it."

The few-month wait can seem even longer since the family has waited three years.

"I am kind of getting anxious," Alice said. "I really just want to keep the momentum going."

About 1,500 people signed the online petition, and Alice wants to show people results.

Upon talking with the Apple accessibility team about the problem a few months ago, Alice said the people really seemed like they wanted to help.

"Forget Taylor Swift and her open letter," she said jokingly. "Apple is willing to help people."