Creative use of technology during Covid 19 pandemic

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Posted on March 25th 2020 by Siobhan Long

Using technology to support people with disabilities, their families and those who support them during the Covid 19 pandemic

Some initial suggestions

Note: This is an evolving ideas post which we encourage you to contribute to: together we can be creative in how we use technology to support people with disabilities who may be feeling isolated and worried, and we can also consider innovative ways of remote working to benefit all.

This is already a very worrying time for people with disabilities, being constantly reminded that they are in a high-risk group when it comes to Covid 19. With schools and services shut down, how can we use technology to facilitate communication, prevent people feeling isolated and maybe provide some kind of distraction?

Disclaimer: By means of this website, Enable Ireland provides information concerning accessing and using technology. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information provided by this website is reasonably comprehensive, accurate and clear. However, the information provided on or via this website may not necessarily be completely comprehensive or accurate, and, for this reason, it is provided on an “AS IS” and “AS AVAILABLE” basis. Each individual or organisation accessing and relying on the information shared should carry out their own review of the suggestions we make from a legal and regulatory point of view.If you think you may have noticed any error or omission, please let us know by contacting Siobhan Long at: slong@enableireland.ie. It is our policy to correct errors or omissions as soon as any error or omission has been established to our satisfaction.

WhatsApp or Viber Groups

This is something most of us use and find very useful. Disability services could set up a group/groups and use them as a way to keep communication open while people are at home.

WhatsApp is very accessible as it allows people to contribute to a group chat using recorded Video or Audio or text. It’s a good way to share jokes and funny stories and keep morale up. It supports individual and groups (up to 4) video and audio calls.

Advantages

  • Accessible (to many)
  • Familiar

Disadvantages

  • Needs a smartphone, computer or tablet.
  • Only supports groups up to 4 in real-time calls or video
  • Your privacy is not guaranteed using these forums

Echo Dot or Echo Show

For some people, speech is the easiest way for them to access technology. The Amazon Alexa powered devices can be a very intuitive way of getting information, entertainment (music, radio, audiobooks adventure games). They also support a feature called “Drop-in”. When setting up a device you can add friends or contacts who also have Echo devices and allow them to “Drop-in”. This could provide a good means of keeping contact with people who may not be comfortable enough with technology to use a smartphone or WhatsApp. It works basically like an intercom. The person being dropped in on does not have to do anything other than answer, no buttons to press or commands are needed. It’s like talking to them if they were in the room with you. The Echo Show (only £50 on Amazon at the moment) has a screen and camera also. We are not sure if you can Drop-in with video of if you need to use a video calling service. (Maybe someone reading this already knows the answer?)

Advantages

  • Very easy to use natural speech interface.
  • Lots of entertainment options
  • Can open communication channels in a natural way with user input

Disadvantages

  • GDPR/Privacy/Consent considerations are an issue as you may not receive the privacy you expect

Video Conferencing

MICROSOFT TEAMS

Microsoft Teams is a hub for teamwork in Office 365. It is currently free to download and use, during this Covid 19 pandemic. It is most likely to be initially at least, most useful to staff, as there is a degree of learning and familiarization involved: Here’s an introductory video illustrating how Teams works.

SKYPE

Skype should be familiar with being the original voice and video calling service. Perhaps not as popular as it once was it is still used by many people. Once someone is set up and signed in it should be easy enough to navigate. Skype is keyboard accessible, which will allow us to use alternative input methods or create a simplified interface using software like the Grid 3. Unfortunately, Skype no longer supports games like checkers and chess but it is still a good option especially if people are already using it.

ZOOM

Currently free, the video conferencing tool Zoom is a great way of bringing larger groups together via video. It supports all the main platforms (Windows iOS, Android and macOS). It’s quite an easy app to use and is free to install and use for up to 40 minutes. This could be used to bring everyone together at a certain time every day and would be probably the best way of simulating the atmosphere people would be familiar with within the services they normally attend. When hosting a meeting, you can select ‘share screen only’ to ensure that there is no potential for making any changes to attendees’ own devices. Without selecting this feature, it would be possible to remotely access devices, and this is something that would require written/recorded consent.

Note: Corporate IT Departments may have concerns re: this solution as they may not have any prior agreement with them. So for service providers, best to check with their IT and Data Protection officer before considering it.

Advantages

  • Free and relatively easy to use
  • Supports large group video calls
  • Great casting tool

Disadvantages

  • GDPR concerns given your privacy is not guaranteed
  • Requires a computer or mobile device
  • Will be new and unfamiliar to most (all)

FaceBook Groups

Enable Ireland Communications Department have created guidelines for designated staff authorised to start Facebook Groups for the purpose of communicating with clients and their family’s. These guidelines offer some do’s and don’t in regard to moderating these groups and suggest the appropriate privacy settings that need to be applied. You can request a copy of this document from our Communications Department.

communication@enableireland.ie

Set up an Internet Radio Station

There are services that allow you to create an online radio station (for example https://radio.co/). This would be a great way of keeping people in touch with news and entertainment custom made for a specific audience. Rotate DJs between services, have chats, play music, share the news. Bit of a mad idea but could be fun for everyone. If a live radio channel is a bit of a stretch we could maybe produce a daily podcast. Get people to record introduction to songs on their phones and send us the audio. Record thoughts, news, jokes, and we can try to put it all together and send out a link for everyone to listen. Video could also be used and make private links on YouTube.

Advantages

  • Accessible to (almost) all as listeners
  • Offers opportunity to be a producer as well as consumer of news/entertainment
  • All content curated by surface users

Disadvantages

  • Totally new to us, not sure of the requirements for setting it up but happy to hear from others more familiar, and happy to try it out.

Watch Together

YouTube is very popular and supports synchronised watching of YouTube videos and real-time chat.

https://www.watch2gether.com/?lang=en

Online Games

There are lots of games available online that allow you to invite friends to play remotely. Why not curate and manage a range? Suited to Draughts, Battleship, Ludo, Scrabble, Chess although younger players might be more interested in Fortnite

Advantages

  • Many of these games will be familiar to people already
  • Great distraction; Start a league!

Disadvantages

  • Many of the sites that offer these games are funded by advertising and can be difficult to navigate (auto-playing videos, links to products, flashing ads designed to trick people into clicking on them. This is not an insurmountable problem but it would be a good bit of work identifying appropriate platforms. iOS might be better.

Virtual photo walks

This is a lovely idea we came across. The original uses Google Hangouts but any video conferencing app would work.

Books – reading, looking and listening audio books

Story Weaver https://storyweaver.org.in/ is an open platform for the creation and distribution of books aimed at children under 16. Although a lot of the content has been created by and for other cultures & languages with almost 20,000 currently in the catalogue there should be plenty of interest there. The real potential with this site, however, is creating your own richly illustrated books with their easy to use web app.

Audio Books are hugely popular, they are accessible and can be consumed while completing other activities like your daily.  Audible (free for 30 days and linked to Echo/Amazon/Kindle) is the big name with the largest catalogue. 

Bookshare Ireland is available for people with visual or print disabilities. You can also download Audio Books or eBooks from your local library https://www.librariesireland.ie/elibrary/eaudiobooks.

Do you have a nice voice, or rather has anybody else ever told you have a nice voice? If so and you have a good quality microphone why not volunteer for https://librivox.org/. The Librivox project has been creating high-quality audiobooks from all public domain literature for a number of years. There is a huge selection to download and listen to as well as for instructions on how to begin creating your own.


Webinars

AbilityNet

 https://abilitynet.org.uk/free-resources/webinars  have a webinar in conjunction with the UK Stroke Association next week. They are also planning weekly webinars (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) over the next month. https://abilitynet.org.uk/news-blogs/abilitynet-live-free-events-about-technology-and-disability

AHEAD

 https://www.ahead.ie/conference2020  have moved their conference online, with a series of webinars over the next 10 weeks, starting this afternoon and tomorrow. They also have an archive of past webinars https://www.ahead.ie/Digital-Accessibility-Webinar-Series

AbleNet

 https://www.ablenetinc.com/resources/live_webinars have some webinars scheduled over the coming weeks, but also have access to a large bank of recorded webinars at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnqbFTy0VIQ6fVxXY2HiOJw/videos

Perkins Learning

has some prerecorded webinars https://www.perkinselearning.org/videos/webinar/assistive-technology

Call Scotland

also have scheduled and archived webinars available https://www.callscotland.org.uk/professional-learning/webinars/

Pacer

have cancelled a lot of their webinars for April/May https://www.pacer.org/workshops/ but they have an extensive list of archived webinars – https://www.pacer.org/webinars/archive-listing.asp

Shane Hastings Giveback Directory of free products / services available during COVID-19

Education (26)

Business Resources (9)

Health & Wellbeing (17)

Sports (7)

Entertainment (6)

Music (8)

Technology (7)

As mentioned, this is just for starters: if we all think creatively we can harness technology in many ways to support service users and staff through this difficult time. Please contact us with your suggestions and we’ll add them to this document. Thanks!

And check out Enable Ireland’s National Assistive Technology Training Service’s free online content on Assistive Technology for Creative Expression: on enableirelandat.com

Stay safe and well, and please share/respond/add your own suggestions/ideas. We’re all better together:) Or as we say in Ireland, Ní neart go cur le céile

Siobhan, Karl, Juliann, Sean and Shirley: The Enable Ireland AT Team

Copy and Paste POWERUP – Windows 10 Clipboard Manager

If you’re on Twitter you may have heard the sad news of Larry Tesler passing away recently. I, like many others I’m sure, hadn’t heard of Mr Tesler until his death. You will be familiar with his work however. Larry Tesler was the inventor of Cut, Copy and Paste. Copy and Paste is an action we do every day on a computer (some more than others perhaps.. guilty). Editing documents, moving text around, quoting people, downright plagrasium.. it’s a quick and useful way of repurposing text. If you are slow at typing, find spelling difficult or maybe experience short term memory problems it’s a godsend. On Windows you can just use the mouse, select the text, right click and choose your weapon of choice (Cut, Copy or Paste). Mac users don’t have a right mouse button but I suspect they use this feature just as much. Taking it to the next level, let’s call them the serious amateurs, we have keyboard shortcuts. Shift + Delete for Cut (can’t say I use this much), Ctrl + C for Copy and Ctrl + V for Paste. Keyboard shortcuts are great, more productive and help prevent repetitive strain injury (RSI).

As much as I like this tool (technique?) the standard Copy/Paste has a major limitation which you will have certainly have come across if you use it frequently. It only remembers the last item copied. Let’s say you want to copy a few phrases from a document. This means you need to switch between documents: copy, switch, paste, switch, copy… or you could use my preferred method which is to open a Notepad doc, split the screen and paste into that. I do this to remove any style associated with the text but it’s still increasing the workload and thereby defeating the purpose!

There have long been third party tools called Clipboard Managers which allow you take Copy and Paste to the next level. A clipboard manager will allow you: copy. copy, copy > Paste, Paste, Paste. Very handy. What most people don’t know, and the reason for this post, is that Windows 10 has a Clipboard Manager built in, you just need to enable it. Copy as normal (Ctrl + C) but instead of using Ctrl + V to paste, Use Windows Key + V. Windows Key is on the bottom row, left of spacebar between Ctrl and Alt and is the Windows Logo. Once enabled (doing it the first time will prompt you to enable the feature) you will be offered a window with your clipboard history (screenshot below, it works for screenshots too). 

The windows clipboard manager being used on this blog post. Test in manager window says: Work smarter not harder, I like to copy, i like to paste

Supporting AAC Users

finger pointing on a communication  board

In this time of uncertainty, having access to communication is more important than ever, so that we can all stay informed, ask questions and ease anxieties. We’ve rounded up some of the support that AAC suppliers are offering currently, to support AAC users, their families and professionals. In addition to the below, all companies are offering phone and web support to users, and most are offering online webinars and training.

SafecareTechnologies are offering a 60 days free trial of Snap and Core, for both Windows https://www.tobiidynavox.com/en-GB/software/windows-software/snap/  and iOS https://www.tobiidynavox.com/en-GB/software/ipad-apps/Snap-1. There are also CoronaVirus content pages that can be downloaded https://www.mytobiidynavox.com/psc/snapcorefirst/63829. They are also still offering trails and loans of devices and ensuring that all equipment sent out is sanitised.

Smartbox has a few offers at present – As well as their usual 60 days free trial of the Grid 3 software, they are offering free copies of their software “Look to Read”, sign up at this link https://thinksmartbox.com/news/look-to-read-donations/. They also have some fantastic Coronavirus resources available for their Supercore users but are easily adapted for other users as well https://thinksmartbox.com/news/coronavirus-super-core-resources/. Virtual visits and support are also available.

HelpKidzLearn have 14 day free trials of most of their software and apps and have introduced a new low cost, monthly licence option for their Games and Activities and ChooseItMaker https://www.helpkidzlearn.com/updates/school-closure.html

Boardmaker has a 90 day trial of their Boardmaker Online, sign up here:

https://goboardmaker.com/blogs/news/boardmaker-online-working-from-home

Liberator are offering 2 months free access to the AAC Language Lab https://www.liberator.co.uk/blog/blog/2020/03/26/2-months-free-access-to-the-aac-language-lab/

Tobii Dynavox also have fantastic low tech communication chart options for people who might be in hospital – available in symbol format https://download.mytobiidynavox.com/MyTobiiDynavox/Documentation/Coronavirus/CV-US/ICU%20Communication%20Board%20-%20ENGLISH%20%28US%29%20WITH%20SYMBOLS.pdf  and text https://download.mytobiidynavox.com/MyTobiiDynavox/Documentation/Coronavirus/CV-US/ICU%20Communication%20Board%20-%20ENGLISH%20%28US%29.pdf

Learn new skills during Covid-19 pandemic

Learn new skills during Covid-19 pandemic

Learning new work skills and strengthening those you already have are important for your career success.  It will increase your self-confidence and can even be fun. So set aside time to build on the skills you have.  First, decide on the skills you want to learn or strengthen. Then plan on how to follow through.  There are now thousands of courses and webinars freely available online in many different areas including assistive technology during the Covid-19 pandemic. Check out some of these exciting sites below.

Webinars

person wiht headset on within a screen

Ablenet

https://www.ablenetinc.com/resources/live_webinars have some webinars scheduled over the coming weeks, but also have access to a large bank of recorded webinars at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnqbFTy0VIQ6fVxXY2HiOJw/videos

Abilitynet

https://abilitynet.org.uk/free-resources/webinars  Abilitynet are planning weekly webinars (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) over the next month of live online events to help share useful information for disabled people and their carers and employers.

https://abilitynet.org.uk/news-blogs/abilitynet-live-free-events-about-technology-and-disability

Ahead

 https://www.ahead.ie/conference2020  have moved their conference online, with a series of webinars over the next 10 weeks.  They also have an archive of past webinars https://www.ahead.ie/Digital-Accessibility-Webinar-Series

Call Scotland

also have scheduled and archived webinars available https://www.callscotland.org.uk/professional-learning/webinars/

Closing the Gap

Closing The Gap provides assistive technology (AT) resources to professionals, parents and people with disabilities.

Perkins learning

Perkins School for the Blind has been a leader in the field of blindness education has some prerecorded webinars https://www.perkinselearning.org/videos/webinar/assistive-technology

Pacer

have an extensive list of archived webinars – https://www.pacer.org/webinars/archive-listing.asp

Online learning sites

person sitting at a table with a laptop

Udemy

Udemy released the Udemy Free Resource Center,  a collection of more than 150 free Udemy courses to help students adapt to working from home, search for a job, maintain balance, and more.

OpenLearn

The Open University offers courses at all levels.
OpenLearn gives you free access to learning materials from The Open University.
http://www.open.edu/openlearn/

Future Learn

Courses from a range of topics; from Science & Technology to Arts & Humanities, from Body & Mind to Business & Management.
https://www.futurelearn.com/

Class Central

Class Central is a free online course aka MOOC aggregator from top universities like Stanford, MIT, Harvard, etc. offered via Coursera, Udacity,edX, NovoED, & others
https://www.class-central.com/

P2PU

P2PU is a learning community that runs on the web. They run courses and organize webinars.
https://p2pu.org/en/

Udacity

Online courses that are built in partnership with technology leaders and are relevant to industry needs. Upon completing a Udacity course, you’ll receive a verified completion certificate recognized by industry leaders.
https://www.udacity.com/

OCTEL

The course comprises ten modules. Each module is designed to consist of five learning hours, including a one-hour live webinar
http://octel.alt.ac.uk/

edX

EdX offers interactive online classes and MOOCs from the world’s best universities. Online courses from MITx, HarvardX, BerkeleyX, UTx and many other universities. Topics include biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, finance, electronics, engineering, food and nutrition, history, humanities, law, literature, math, medicine, music, philosophy, physics, science, statistics and more.
https://www.edx.org/

MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare makes the materials used in the teaching of almost all of MIT’s subjects available on the Web, free of charge. With more than 2,200 courses available
http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

Coursera

Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.
https://www.coursera.org/

Other free products / services available

The word free written on label

Shane Hastings Giveback Directory of free products / services available during COVID-19

Education (26)

Business Resources (9)

Health & Wellbeing (17)

Sports (7)

Entertainment (6)

Music (8)

Technology (7)

Autism Awareness 2020

April is Autism Awareness Month, and during this time, some suppliers offer discounts and special offers. Some extend for the entire month, others for just a few days, so get in quick if you want to take advantage!

Avaz is offering a 50% discount for the full month on the following products:

  • Avaz AAC : An award-winning communication app for users with speech difficulties arising from ASD, Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, aphasia, apraxia, strokes & more MDA
  • Avaz Reader : Education app that enables struggling readers become independent readers using research backed strategies.
  • Avaz FreeSpeech : An education app that makes learning English Grammar fun & easy for children with special needs

For more information, please see: https://www.avazapp.com/blog/autism-acceptance-month-discount-april-1-to-april-30-2020/?utm_source=ticker

Assistiveware have a 50% off promotion from today (2nd April) to the 4th of April on the following apps for iOS and software for Macs :

  • Proloquo2Go: a symbol based AAC, completely customisable and designed for a range of fine-motor and visual skills. Available as an app and software.
  • Proloquo4Text: a text based AAC system, with intuitive word and sentence prediction. Available as an app and software
  • Pictello: an app for creating visual stories and visual schedules, building literacy skills
  • Keeble: an accessible iOS keyboard, that can take the place of the standard keyboard, and helps individuals with physical or visual impairments.

Please see https://www.assistiveware.com/blog/discount-celebrating-autism-acceptance-month for more information.

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System from Pyramid Educational Consultants) are offering a 15% discount on products purchased from their Resources shop with the code “pecs20” until the end of June 2020. https://pecs-unitedkingdom.com/store/. They also have a discount on their range of apps, valid for the month of April 2020, including ( PECS® IV+, PECS® Phase III, iHear PECS®: Animals™, Wait4it™, and Working4™) . Please see https://pecs-unitedkingdom.com/apps/ for further information.

Liberator have a 50% discount on the LAMP Words for Life app available from the 1st to 5th April. LAMP (Language acquisition through Motor Planning) is a therapeutic approach to using AAC with nonverbal individuals with Autism. Please click on the link for more information: https://mailchi.mp/liberator.co.uk/lampsale2020-847749?e=6bb0526a2b

We will add more special promotions as we become aware of them!

AT for Creative Expression and Leisure

As we all figure out how best to cope with the Covid 19 pandemic and the social distancing that comes with it, we figured that many of you might be interested in learning about Assistive Technologies for Creative Expression and Leisure: Music, Photography and Gaming. Some of these may come in very handy as we all try to stay connected with one another during these trying times.

We are making our AT for Creative Expression and Leisure courses free for everyone to access over the next few months. These 4 short courses look at some ways that technology can assist people with disabilities engaging in creative pursuits and leisure activities. We have included the Introduction course below. This should be of interest to everybody and helps frame the subsequent content. The remaining 3 courses are available on our Learning Portal at enableirelandAT.ie.

You will need to create an account to access these courses but once you have your account you can self-enrol for free. Creating an account is easy. All you need is access to email to confirm your account. There is a video at the bottom of this post which will guide you through the process of creating an account. You don’t need to look at the second half of the video as these courses do not require an enrolment key.

Please let us know how you get on, and feel free to post your queries and comments at the bottom of this page. We’d love to hear what your own experiences are, and if there is content that you think we should add to these courses.

Introduction 

Below we have embedded the Introduction course. It’s too small to use as it but you can make it full screen by clicking the third blue button from the left at the bottom or click here to open in a new tab/window.

We hope that after completing this short introduction you are inspired to learn more. If so there are links to the other 3 courses below and also the video showing you how to create your account on our Learning Portal.

Art & Photography

Abstract painting. Blue dominant colour. distinct brush or  pallet knife strokes. text repeated below

In this short course we suggest some technologies that will enable people with disabilities access, engage and create art through media like painting or drawing, photography, video or animation.

Enrol in Art & Photography

Leisure & Gaming

2 children using an apple powerbook. boy has hands in the air, c=smiling, celebrating

Leisure and gaming can be sometimes overlooked when considering the needs of an individual. But it can be an important part of a young person’s development and help enable inclusion into society. This module looks at how we can make leisure time and gaming more inclusive to a wide range of abilities. There are now many options for accessible toys, game consoles and switch adapted toys. The module covers a sample of these options with some suggested links for further reading.

Enrol in the Leisure & Gaming Course

Music: Listen, Create, Share

screenshot of the eyeharp eyegaze music software. clock like radial interface. users eyes in letterbox image at centre. text below

Music is an accessible means of creative expression for all abilities. Even the act of passively listening to music engages the brain in the creative process. In this short course we will look at some mainstream and specialist hardware and software that can help facilitate creative musical expression.

Enrol in the Music: Listen, Create, Share Course

Creating an account on enableirelandAT.ie

Eyegaze for Musical Expression

Background – What is eyegaze?

Eyegaze is an alternative way of accessing a computer using eye movements to control the mouse. It is achieved through a combination of hardware and software. The hardware is a USB perhipal called an eye tracker. The eye tracker is positioned underneath the computer monitor. It contains a camera and Infrared lights. The user is positioned between 500 and 1000 mm from the monitor (600mm is usually about right) where the camera has a clear view of their eyes. The Infrared lights highlight the user’s pupils (think of red eye in photographs where a flash has been used) and create reflections on the user’s eyeballs. After a calibration process where the user looks at a dot moving around the screen, the software can accurately tell where the user is looking based on the reflections and movements of the pupil. For computer access the user will also need tome method of clicking. There are 3 methods usually used. Dwell is the most common method. This is where the click is automated. If the user holds their gaze (dwells) on a button or icon for more than a specified time duration, usually somewhere from .5 to 1.5 sec, a click is sent. A slight variation of this is used in some software designed for eyegaze where the button is activated after the user dwells on it. The main difference here is that the second method offers us the ability to select different dwell times for different buttons. The other input methods are less common. The first would be to use an external switch as a mouse click, the second would be to use a deliberate blink (longer than a normal blink to prevent accidental clicks) as a mouse click.  

Eye Tracker Devices

  • Tobii Tracker 4C https://gaming.tobii.com/tobii-eye-tracker-4c/ – This is a great option for those wanting to use eyegaze for activities like music and gaming but have other AT as their main access method. It is every bit as good as the two much more expensive “AT” eye trackers below and costs in the region of €170.
  • Tobii PC Eye Plus and Mini https://www.tobiidynavox.com/products/devices/ – The PC Eye Mini and PC Eye Plus are probably the most popular AT eye trackers. The mini will work well on a monitor up to 19”, the Plus also contains a high quality microphone array to support speech recognition, it also has a switch input port. The Plus will work on screens up to 28”.
  • EyeTech TM5 https://eyetechds.com/eye-tracking-products/tm5-mini-eye-tracker/. The EyeTech TM5 is quite similar to the Tobii PC Eye Mini. One key difference that might influence the choice of this eye trackers is that it supports a slightly closer user position.

Challenges associated with playing music using eye movement

These are a number of difficulties we might encounter when playing music using eye movements but all can be overcome with practice and by using some common music production tools and techniques. Eye gaze as an input method is quite restrictive. You only have one point of direct access, so you can think of it like playing a piano with one finger. To compound this difficulty and expand the piano analogy, because your eyes are also your input you cannot queue up your next note like a one fingered piano player might. Eyegaze in itself is just eye pointing, using it as an access method will require some input (click) ether a switch or a dwell (automatic click after a specific time duration, usually somewhere from .5 to 1.5 sec). If you are using dwell for input then this will add a layer of difficulty when it comes to timing. You could set the dwell to be really fast (like .1 second) but you may run into accidental activations in this case, for example playing a note as you are passing over it on the way to your intended note. Some of the specialist eyegaze software instruments like EyeHarp, EyePlayMusic and ii-music overcome this by using a circular clock style interface. This allows them set the onscreen buttons to instant activation and because of the radial layout each note can be directly accessed from the centre without passing over another note. Using the radial design if our eyes are in a central position all notes are equal distance from us and can be accessed in the most efficient way but we are still left with the “one finger piano” restriction. This means no chords and only the option of playing at a slower tempo. Using mainstream music productions like sequencers, arpeggiators or chord mode can overcome this limitation and allow us create much more complex music using eyegaze. A sequencer would allow you pre program accompanying notes with which to play along. An arpeggio is sometimes referred to as a broken chord. It is the notes of a chord played consecutively rather than simultaneously. Arpeggios are used a lot in electronic music. By playing arpeggios the slower input is offset by the additional life and movement provided by the arpeggio. Chord mode is something that can be set up in many digital audio workstations. You can map one note to automatically play the accompanying notes required to make it a chord. Live looping could also be used. In looping we would record a section being played live, then loop it back and play other notes over it. Other effects like delay, reverb and many more besides, will also allow is make interesting music.

Expression is another difficulty when playing music using eye tracking. By expression we mean how an accomplished musician can play the same note in different ways to make it more expressive. Velocity is a common means of expression, you can think of this a how fast/hard a note is struck. Velocity can affect volume and other qualities of the instrument’s sound. Another common means of expression is provided pedals like those on an organ or piano. Using eyegaze we really only have the ability to turn the note on or off. Some of the software however breaks note areas up into sections, each one giving an increased velocity (see photo below).           

Software for playing music with Eyegaze

  • Eye Harp http://theeyeharp.org/ One of the first software instruments made specifically for eyegaze, the EyeHarp remains one of the best options. This software was originally developed as a college project (I guessing he got a first!) and rather than let it die developer Zacharias Vamvakousis made it available free and open source. After a few years with now updates the news is that there are some big updates on the way. We are looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us.
animated gif showing the eyeharp performance screen. a clock type circular interface divided into sections. eyes at the centre of the circle

Another option for eyegaze music production is using software like the Grid 3 or Iris to create an eyegaze accessible interface for a mainstream digital audio workstation. The demo below is done using Ableton Live however any software that offers keyboard mapping or keyboard shortcuts (so any quality software) could be used in the same way.

Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit – The Final Key to Disabled Gaming

Last year I wrote a review of the Xbox adaptive controller. I detailed how it had opened up the world of gaming to many people with a disability after years of looking longingly at gamers who delved into another round of FIFA or Grand Theft Auto. By the time I was done I realised that now only one barrier remained the barrier of cost. Thankfully that is where Logitech has stepped in with their new gaming accessory kit to alleviate some of that financial pressure.

Taking a quick look back at the review of the Xbox adaptive controller you’ll see that the controller connects with the Xbox and where it becomes adaptive is that it can be used with any form of adaptive devices that you may use depending on your disability, most often those devices are series of different pressure pads or buddy buttons. In my case I use the adaptive controller along with a series of about 4 to 6 buddy buttons to act as the trigger buttons on the top of the normal Xbox controller, buttons I normally otherwise would never be able to access restricting me in 90% of games available on the Xbox.

To Quote Brad Pitt in Seven “What’s in the Box?”

Before I even get as far as describing what is in the box funnily enough I’m going to describe the box itself. Logitech seem to have taken to take all aspects of the adaptive nature of the product into account by making the packaging more accessible. The tape sealing the box shut has Loops at the end for somebody with limited use of their hands and weak grip to easily pull the box open. Inside there is a huge array of devices each of which is packaged in a plastic bag (not for the environmentalists) that are loose and slippy so the device can be easily slid out.

So that’s the box itself dealt with it. now what is inside the box? The box contains an array of 12 different pressure activation buttons (see photo below). These activation buttons vary in size and in response time and are designed to suit a variety of different disabilities. Logitech have also included two sheets of stickers that you can apply to each button you’re using , these stickers identify which button on the Xbox controller your activation pressure buttons represent.

the logitech kit has 4 switch types. All black from left is the light touch button (4 in kit), large button (3 in kit), Variable triggers (2 in kit) and small button (3 in kit)

It has also taken into account the frustration that is involved when one button slips at the most crucial of points by including a collection of velcro stickers  and two pads that can interconnect with one another that sit across your lap and hold your buttons in place making them more accessible to you when you need them most. Now you’re far less likely to have them slip from underneath your hand as you are about to shoot that last enemy in Fortnite or score the winning goal in FIFA.

It’s All About the Money, Cost?

It’s very simple if you are living on disability allowance alone gaming is still very expensive. The consoles themselves are expensive not to mention the price of the games.

Unfortunately like most things once you add in the word disability there is a further cost. The Xbox adaptive controller on its own is not very useful for most people with a disability and that unit itself cost in the region of €80.

The adaptive controller must be combined with the activation pressure buttons that are most often used in conjunction with the adaptive controller. This is where the price starts to go up very very quickly.

Each buddy button can cost in the region of 60 to €80. When you consider that I need to use a minimum of 4 to 6 body buttons to use the adaptive controller to it’s full potential you can see how the cost can rocket very quickly. That’s a potential cost of €480 to fully equip you with the buttons you need.

So taking that into account Logitech gaming accessory pack price of €99 is a complete bargain with a variety of 12 different pressure buttons included within the pack. They are more lightweight and possibly will take less of a beating than some of the official ones which appear to have a more sturdy build but it is a fantastic opportunity.

Have a look at the video below to learn more about the process that made this kit possible.

 Even if you are not a gamer but use a number of pressure activation buttons or buddy buttons around the house in your day-to-day life then the Logitech gaming accessory it could be a solution for you.

Get your Adaptive Gaming Kit from Logitech here

Enrolling now: Foundations in Assistive Technology Course

Our 2020 Foundations in AT course, accredited by Technological University, Dublin, kicks off on March 10th in Microsoft, Leopardstown.

The course is delivered using a combination of 3 days of face to face training, with the remainder of the course delivered online. In total, the time commitment required is 100 hours: 21 hours face to face, and 79 hours of self-directed learning. This includes completion of your course project, (due for submission 6 weeks after the final face to face training date) which we estimate should take approximately 50 hours to complete.

AT is a broad and fast evolving area and this Foundations course is designed to equip Professionals, AT users and Caregivers with up to date and relevant information that will serve as a strong basis for working in the field of disability support. Topics covered include: Access, Communication, Assessment, Daily Living, Smarthomes, AT for Education and AT for Creative Expression.

Our goal is to support your learning throughout the process. Past participants have highlighted the benefit of in-class discussion, hands on opportunities with a range of Assistive Technologies, and engagement with expert AT users. We will offer all of these resources to you as part of this course, and we welcome your feedback as you advance through the course. Please feel free to contact us directly if you have any particular queries or concerns about your participation or about navigation through the course itself.

Dates

10th March 2020: Day 1 Foundations in Assistive Technology

7th April 2020: Day 2 Foundations in Assistive Technology

28th April 2020: Day 3 Foundations in Assistive Technology

To enrol for this course, please follow this link:

https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/foundations-in-assistive-technology-10th-mar-7th-apr-28th-apr-2020-tickets-64660012839

Modules
• Computer Access & Accessibility Features
• Augmentative Communication
• AT for Leisure
• Mobile Technologies
• Environmental Control Systems
• AT Assessment
• Power Mobility
• Educational Software
• Future Technologies
• Funding and Legislation
• Integrating AT into the Curriculum and at Work

Objectives
• To provide participants with the AT knowledge and skills that they require
• To ensure AT users and potential users are central to the AT decision-making process
• To increase participants confidence in their own AT skills
• To provide participants with an understanding of the tools and processes that are required to support AT users
• To de-mystify technology
• To promote best practice and encourage the development of ongoing discussion groups post-course.

Bring your own experience and share with others. Group learning environment, on-line collaboration, interdisciplinary setting, practical.

Cost: €910.00 which includes all course materials and lunch/refreshments. We offer a range of discounts to AT users/parents/carers etc

Skyle – out of the blue

Anybody working with Assistive Technology (AT) knows how useful Apple iOS devices are. Over the years they have gradually built in a comprehensive and well-designed range of AT supports that go a long way to accommodating every access need. This is no small feat. In 2009 VoiceOver transformed what was essentially a smooth featureless square of glass with almost no tactile information, into the preferred computing device for blind people. In 2019 Voice Control and the improvements made to Assistive Touch filled two of the last big gaps in the area of “hands free” control of iOS. All this great work is not completely altruistic however as it has resulted in Apple mobile devices cementing their place as the preeminent platform in the area of disability and AT. It is because of this that it has always been somewhat of a mystery why there has never been a commercial eye tracking option available for either iOS or MacOS. Perhaps not so much iOS as we will see but certainly one would have thought an eyegaze solution for the Apple desktop OS could be a viable product.

There are a few technical reasons why iOS never has supported eyegaze. Firstly, up until the newer generations of eye gaze peripherals, eye gaze needed a computer with a decent spec to work well. iPads are Mobile devices and Apple originally made no apologies for sacrificing performance for more important mobile features like reducing weight, thickness and increasing battery life. As eye trackers evolved and got more sophisticated, they began to process more of the massive amount of gaze data they take in. So rather than passing large amounts of raw data straight through to the computer via USB 3 or Firewire they process the data first themselves. This means less work for the computer and connection with less bandwidth can be used. Therefore, in theory, an iPad Pro could support something like a Tobii PC Eye Mini but in practice, there was still one major barrier. iOS did not support any pointing device, let alone eye tracking devices. That was until last September’s iOS update. iOS 13 or iPadOS saw upgrades to the Assistive Touch accessibility feature that allowed it to support access to the operating system using a pointing device.     

iPad Pro 12" in black case with Skyle eye tracker
iPad Pro 12″ with Skyle eye tracker and case

It is through Assistive Touch that the recently announced Skyle for iPad Pro is possible. “Skyle is the world’s first eye tracker for iPad Pro” recently announced by German company EyeV https://eyev.de/ (who I admit I have not previously heard of). Last week it appeared as a product on Inclusive Technology for £2000 (ex VAT). There is very little information on the manufacturer website about Skyle so at this stage all we know is based on the Inclusive Technology product description (which is pretty good thankfully). The lack of information about this product (other than the aforementioned) significantly tempers my initial excitement on hearing that there is finally an eye tracking solution for iOS. There are no videos on YouTube (or Inclusive Technology), no user reviews anywhere. I understand it is a new product but it is odd for a product to be on the market before anybody has had the opportunity of using it and posting a review. I hope I am wrong but alarm bells are ringing. We’ve waited 10 years for eye tracking on iOS, why rush now?

Leaving my suspicion behind there are some details on Inclusive Technology which will be of interest to potential customers. If you have used a pointing device through Assistive Touch on iPadOS you will have a good idea of the user experience. Under Cursor in the Assistive Touch settings you can change the size and colour of the mouse cursor. You will need to use the Dwell feature to automate clicks and the Assistive Touch menu will hive you access to all the other gestures needed to operate the iPad. Anyone who works with people who use eye tracking for computer access will know that accuracy varies significantly from person to person. Designed for touch, targets in iPadOS (icons, menus) are not tiny, they are however smaller than a cell in the most detailed Grid used by a highly accurate eyegaze user. Unlike a Windows based eye gaze solution there are no additional supports, for example a Grid overlay or zooming to help users with small targets. Although many users will not have the accuracy to control the iPad with this device (switch between apps, change settings) it could be a good solution within an AAC app (where cell sizes can be configured to suit user accuracy) or a way of interacting with one of the many cause and effect apps and games. Again however, if you have a particular app or activity in mind please don’t assume it will work, try before you buy. It should be noted here that Inclusive Technology are offering a 28 Day returns policy on this product.

There is a Switch input jack which will offer an alternative to Dwell for clicking or could be set to another action (show Assistive Touch menu maybe). I assume you could also use the switch with iOS Switch Control which might be a work around for those who are not accurate enough to access smaller targets with the eye gaze device. It supports 5 and 9 point calibration to improve accuracy. I would like to see a 2 point calibration option as 5 points can be a stretch for some early eyegaze users. It would also be nice if you could change the standard calibration dot to something more likely to engage a child (cartoon dog perhaps).

Technical specs are difficult to compare between eye trackers on the same platform (Tobii v EyeTech for example) so I’m not sure what value it would be to compare this device with other Windows based eye trackers. That said some specs that will give us an indication of who this device may be appropriate for are sample rate and operating distance. Judging by the sample rate (given as 18Hz max 30Hz) the Skyle captures less than half the frames per second of its two main Windows based competitors (Tobii 30 FPS TM5 42 FPS). However even 15 FPS should be more than enough for accurate mouse control. The operating distance (how far the device is from the user) for Skyle is 55 to 65 cm which is about average for an eyegaze device. However only offering a range of 10 cm (Tobii range is 45cm to 85 cm, so 40 cm) as well as the photo below which shows the positioning guide both indicate that this not a solution for someone with even a moderate amount of head movement as the track box (area where eyes can be successfully tracked) seems to be very small.

the positioning guide in the skyle app. letterbox view of a persons eyes. seems to indicate only movement of a couple of centimeters is possible before going out of view.
Does the user have to keep their position within this narrow area or does Skyle use facial recognition to adjust to the user’s position? If it’s the former this solution will not be appropriate for users with even a moderate amount of head movement.

In summary if you are a highly accurate eyegaze user with good head control and you don’t wear glasses.. Skyle could offer you efficient and direct hands free access to your iPad Pro. It seems expensive at €2500 especially if you don’t already own a compatible iPad (add at least another €1000 for an iPad Pro 12”). If you have been waiting for an eyegaze solution for iOS (as I know many people have) I would encourage you to wait a little longer. When the opportunity arises, try Skyle for yourself. By that time, there may be other options available.

If any of the assumptions made here are incorrect or if there is anymore information available on Skyle please let us know and we will update this post.