New smart home solutions supporting independence – and some of their hidden costs.

At first glance, Smart home products appear to be quite a low cost.  However, it is worthwhile to consider all the costs involved before getting into a specific system.  Some of these costs are not always obvious at the beginning.   Some examples are given below relating to smart home technologies.

Smart hub

A smart home hub is a hardware device that connects all of your smart home devices together. With a hub, you’ll be able to control your smart lights, thermostat and other smart home devices using one app. Most smart home hubs allow you to schedule when equipment automatically turns on or off using a mobile device.

There are a growing number of hubs to choose from, ranging from free open source solutions based on a Raspberry Pi  to commercial products such as Samsung Smartthings hub.   Each has its advantages and disadvantages.  The final cost may not always be apparent until you have set up all your smart home devices.

HomeSeer is a relatively low-cost smart hub starting at €120.  It has many advantages as it features locally managed automation for reliability, security & privacy and its compatible with many smart home products & cloud services.

However, if you want to connect a smart home product to the hub there is an extra third party charge for its plugin.  For example, if you want to connect WeMo sockets you will require a WeMo plugin costing €29, or Philips hue plugin at €32.  Expanding your smart home could work out to be more expensive than planned.

 

Subscriptions on Doorbells and cameras

Other common smart home products are video doorbells as they can bring both convenience and security to your home by streaming a live view of the doorstep to your smartphone, whether you are on the other side of the door or the other side of the world.

If you are not going to be at home all the time you may need to invest in cloud storage if you need to look back on who was at the door when you were not at home.  For example, Ring doorbell provides the option of recording your doorbells camera for up to 30 days of video history.  Rings cloud storage cost $10/month or $100/year.  Other security cameras suppliers also have similar cloud storage options.

Batteries

Other costs include batteries which are in many smart home products such as door locks, and sensors (proximity, temperature, contact).  These replaceable batteries will build up over the year.

Setup and maintenance time

One of the biggest cost and probably the most underestimated cost is the time you put into setting up and maintaining your smart home equipment. Depending on the setup cost will be from a few hundred euro to ten thousand.

Getting started with an eye – gaze device

Introducing an eye-gaze device to an individual who is non – verbal can open up a world of possibility for them; it can allow them to communicate, engage with games and play as well as allowing them to access and control their environment.

When working with children who have the potential to use eye gaze, it can be difficult to find fun and motivating ways to encourage them to engage with the device. Introducing communication-based programs too early can be too demanding and may ultimately lead to failure using the device.

Smartbox Technologies have developed a program called Look to Learn and describe it as a motivating and fun way to get started with eye gaze technology. Every activity has been developed in consultation with teachers and therapists to improve access and choice-making skills. The software consists of 40 specially created activities that easily allows therapists, families and teachers develop basic eye-gaze interaction with the child. A companion workbook is also available from the Smartbox website to download (free) and helps track and document the child’s progress as they move through the program and the complexity of the activities.

Look to Learn is available to download from Smartbox on https://thinksmartbox.com/downloads/look_to_learn/ and starts at £360.

Supporting the “Click”

I recently came across two “new” Windows programs when exploring ideas for adding extra control to a roller mouse. The search had started while we’d be looking to adapt an employee’s workplace. In her case, she had a simple request to continue to use her roller mouse – liking the feel and its movement – but she found the “lift” from the roller to click more of a challenge to carry out – particularly over long periods of use.

MetaClick toolbar to automate the mouse click
MetaClick toolbar

The first challenge was a quick one to resolve as there’s a number of well-established supports available to automate the mouse click. Programs such as Point N Click Virtual Mouse and Dwell Clicker 2 are well known and a little more polished. However, in the end, we settled on a program with a small presence on the screen called MetaClick.

The good: It’s free, easy to set up and control the “look”, straight forward layout.

Areas for improvement: Appearance looks dated, lacks the ability to move on-screen buttons to preferred areas.

Sakasa Mouse Settings menu
Sakasa Mouse Settings menu

The second challenge, in this case, related to the “orientation” of the roller mouse. The User found her control to be improved over longer periods when her mouse roller was rotated by 1800 on her countertop. This one was a little trickier to resolve but in the end, an old “prank” program called Sakasa Mouse – software which reverses the direction of the cursor movement – came to the rescue for her.

The good: It’s free, separate settings can be set for the X and the Y mouse planes, simple configuration.

Areas for improvement: No support, hasn’t been updated for several years, “jumpy” mouse movement evident on occasions.

Buddi Fall Alarm

Buddi Fall Alarm on users arm
Buddi Fall Alarm on users arm

Do you, or does a member of your family experience frequent or infrequent falls? A new device called the Buddi Fall Alarm has been released to the market that might be of interest.

One of its advantages is that it is waterproof and so can be worn in the bath and shower.

It is designed to be worn 24/7 and its sensitivity can be adjusted to suit a user’s particular needs.

The Buddi wrist band recognises when the wearer falls, but the wearer can cancel any alerts, if they can get back up again. Alternatively, the wearer can press the alert button to call for help.

Using the Buddi app, the wearer can create his/her own private group of connections, who can be alerted in the event of a fall. You can also send private messages via the app to help connected people to understand what kind of help is needed. The location of the Buddi can also been seen on the app.

There is a weekly fee for wearers who wish to connect to a monitoring station, but none if only private connections are required to respond to fall alerts.

This appears to be a handy device for people living on their own, and may help to extend that option for some wearers.

The good: waterproof, no weekly/monthly fees if alerts are limited to the wearer’s own chosen connections

The bad: raises challenging questions around privacy due to the GPS functionality

The cost: stg£99.

Irish supplier: idealtechnology.ie

AAC Awareness Month

October is AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) Awareness Month. The goal is to raise awareness of AAC and to promote the many different ways in which people communicate using communication systems, both low and high tech. In order to celebrate this, some AAC companies offer discounts and special promotions. More should be announced in the coming weeks, and we will update this post to let you know!

Assistiveware will be offering a 50% discount on some of their most popular apps between the 14th and 16th October, including:

Proloquo2Go – a symbol-based acc app, compatible with iPad. iPod, iPhone and the Apple Watch.

Proloquo4text – a text-based AAC app, again available on the platforms mentioned above

Keeble – A highly customisable keyboard for iPad, iPod and iPhone, with word prediction, accommodations for physical and visual difficulties, and a speak as you type feature.

Pictello – an app for creating visual stories and schedules for iPad, iPhone and iPod.

More information can be found here:

https://www.assistiveware.com/blog/save-the-date-aac-month-discount-2019

Liberator will also be offering significant discounts of 50% off between the 10th and 14th October on two of their most popular apps:

LAMP Words for Life – an AAC app designed for those with autism, focusing on a motor planning approach to accessing vocabulary. Available on iPad, iPhone and iPod.

TouchChat AAC – A versatile app that uses both symbols and keyboard to create messages, which can then be spoken aloud, or shared through social media or email, available on iPad, iPod and iPhone.

More information can be found at:

https://mailchi.mp/liberator/aacawarenessmonth-847477?e=2e9fcac5b6

Keep an eye on this post to see other discounts as they become available!

My Computer My Way: Find how to make your device easier to use

Logo for My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is a free online guide of accessibility features for computers, tablets and mobile phones. The aim is to provide you details to make whatever device you’re using easier to use via built-in accessibility features, browser extensions or via apps that you can install.

It’s been around for quite a number of years and having revisited the site again recently I am glad to see it has been updated to current operating systems features.  So whether you need help now with Android Pie, Windows 10 or iOS12 this useful guide has been updated to include the new built-in accessibility features. 

The layout of Accessibility features is divided into four categories

  • Vision; options include features to help you see and use applications more clearly
  • Hearing; accessibility features and information for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Motor; ways to make your keyboard, mouse and mobile device easier to use.
  • And cognitive; computer adjustments that will make reading writing and using the internet easier.

Further information

https://mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk/

The good:  provides details on just about every build-in accessibility feature for your device.

The not so good: There is a limited amount of information on apps or applications that might also provide useful features.

The verdict:  A useful tool for individuals who have limited or no access to an assistive technology service and need help to find solutions on their own.

Live Transcribe: People who are deaf can have conversations with those who are hearing using this app

A cartoon figure of person holding a takeaway cup with a phone app transcribing the speech of that person.

With just an Android phone, a deaf person or someone who is hard of hearing can have a conversation with anyone.  Live Transcribe is an app that types captions accurately in the language that’s being spoken. It’s powered by Google’s speech recognition technology and there are 70 languages to choose from.

Live Transcribe is easy to use, anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or network connection and it’s free to download.

The video below demonstrates how the app can be used.

According to Dr. Mohammad Objedat, Professor, Gallaudet University:

“Live Transcribe gives me a more flexible and efficient way to communicate with hearing people. I just love it, it really changed the way I solve my communication problem.”

And what’s next?

Google are currently working on the Live Relay project which aims to make phone calls easier for individuals who are deaf or non-speaking.

Live Relay uses on-device speech recognition and text-to-speech conversion to allow the phone to listen and speak on the users’ behalf while they type. By offering instant responses and predictive writing suggestions, Smart Reply and Smart Compose will help make typing fast enough to hold phone calls without any significant delays.  Follow @googleaccess for updates.

The good:  The captioning accuracy is excellent

The not so good: No offline option

The verdict:  Works really well, a valuable tool for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Webcam Face trackers

User at a laptop using a webcam face tracker

Webcam Face trackers allow full control of mouse functions without the use of hands. They can be used to access a computer (Windows, Mac), as well as a tablet or smartphone (Android only at present).

Primary users of these technologies are people with motor impairments.  There are various options for hands-free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, lip and chin joysticks, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  Webcam Face trackers are another possible option for hands-free control of your computer or phone. 

Although it may not be as accurate as other hands-free options, such as wearable sensors, with this approach, you don’t have to wear a sensor or reflective dot.  As you move your head, the motion is translated to mouse cursor movement by the webcam.  However, you do have to maintain a direct line-of-sight to the computer, and the performance is dependent on lighting conditions.

Basic pointing device support on an Android tablet or phone is possible with EVA Facial Mouse.  This is available through Google Play.  It will allow access to functions of the mobile device by means of tracking the user’s face, captured through the frontal camera. 

At the time of writing, a webcam face tracker is not available on iOS devices.  However, it is possible to use Switch Control with head gestures to act as switches.  For example look left for select, look right for home.

All 5 Webcam Face Trackers listed below have options for mouse dwell, click and drag lock.

There are two free windows webcam face trackers – Camera mouse and Enable Viacam.  Both work quite well.  For the paid options, SmyleMouse also tracks facial expressions and has the option of clicking with a smile.  ViVo offers integration with leading speech recognition programs.

As there are trial versions for most of these options below, its best to try them all to really get a feel for it and see which one works best for you.

Wearable hands-free mice options to consider are:

SmyleMouse $499


ViVo Mouse $430


Camera Mouse free


Enable Viacam free

iTracker for Mac $35

The good:  You don’t have to wear a sensor or reflective dot and they are battery-free.

The not so good: They are not as accurate as other methods of hands-free options.

The verdict:  If you don’t need very fine cursor control and don’t want to wear a sensor on your head, then webcam face trackers are a good option for hands-free control.

Wearable hands-free mice

Wearable hands-free mice allow full control of mouse functions without the use of hands. They can be used to access a computer (Windows, Mac, etc.), as well as a tablet or smartphone (Android, iOS)

Primary users of these technologies are or cervical spinal cord injury.

There are various options for hands-free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, lip and chin joysticks, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  One other possible group of devices are wearable hands-free mice.  With this approach, you wear a sensor (usually on your head but can be worn elsewhere if that works better for you) and as you move, the motion of that sensor controls the mouse cursor.

There is no camera or other optical unit involved, so you do not have to maintain a direct line-of-sight to the computer, and the performance is independent of lighting conditions.

The GlassOuse and the Zono are wireless, requiring no physical connection between the sensor unit that you wear and the computer that you are controlling. They both have perhaps the most thorough and refined designs in this family.

 The GlassOuse package is worn like eyeglasses (but without anything in front of the eye).  It weighs about 50g. GlassOuse also supplies a range of switches that can be used to perform the mouse click such as bite, puff or a proximity switch. 

The Zono is more of a headphone-style mount for its sensor, and also has several alternative ways to wear the sensor, such as an eyeglass clip.  The Zono can be used with a breath or puff switch so you can click by blowing lightly on the switch sensor.

The EnPathia and eeZee sensors require that the mouse must be tilted, not rotated, to move the cursor. So the motion used will be quite different in the head-controlled case; to move right, you would tilt your right ear toward your right shoulder, instead of rotating your head to the right. This is a less intuitive and more difficult movement for many people.  Finally, an open-source option is the Headmouse by Millmore with build instructions available on instructables.com

Some wearable hands-free mice options to consider are

GlassOuse V1.2 €499

GlassOuse V1.2 mouse with bite switch
User with GlassOuse V1.2 mouse with bite switch

Quha Zono £550

EnPathia €227

EnPathia mouse worn on the users head
EnPathia mouse worn on the users head

eeZee Switch  $599

eeZee Switch on frame of glasses
eeZee Switch on frame of glasses

ED Air Mouse

ED Air Mouse with switches
ED Air Mouse with switches

Head Mouse by Millmore <€50

Millmore testing his Head Mouse
Millmore testing his Head Mouse

Video of user using a wearable mouse

The good:  These hands-free options can potentially have precise control and are not affected by lighting or sound.

The not so good: Commercial options are expensive.

The verdict: If you need or want the ability to make very fine cursor control, and you are happy to wear a sensor, then these wearable mice are a good option for hands-free control.

Mobile Device Accessibility: iOS and the Android Accessibility Suite

One aspect of modern technological life that might help us to keep some faith in humanity are the comprehensive assistive technologies that are built into, or free to download for mobile computing devices. Accessibility features, as they are loosely called, are a range of tools designed to support non-standard users of the technology. If you can’t see the screen very well you can magnify text and icons (1) or use high contrast (2). If you can’t see the screen at all you can have the content read back to you using a screen-reader (3). There are options to support touch input (4, 5) and options to use devices hands free (6). Finally there also some supports for deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) people like the ability to switch to mono audio or visual of haptic alternatives to audio based information.  

With their mobile operating system iOS Apple do accessibility REALLY well and this is reflected in the numbers. In the 2018 WebAim Survey of Low Vision users  there were over 3 times as many iOS users as Android users. That is almost the exact reverse of the general population (3 to 1 in favour of Android). For those with Motor Difficulties it was less significant but iOS was still favoured.

So what are Apple doing right? Well obviously, first and foremost, the credit would have to go to their developers and designers for producing such innovative and well implemented tools. But Google and other Android developers are also producing some great AT, often highlighting some noticeable gaps in iOS accessibility. Voice Access, EVA Facial Mouse and basic pointing device support are some examples, although these are gaps that will soon be filled if reports of coming features to iOS 13 are to be believed.

Rather than being just about the tools it is as much, if not more, about awareness of those tools: where to find them, how they work. In every Apple mobile device you go to Settings>General>Accessibility and you will have Vision (1, 2, 3), Interaction (4, 5, 6) and Hearing settings. I’m deliberately not naming these settings here so that you can play a little game with yourself and see if you know what they are. I suspect most readers of this blog will get 6 from 6, which should help make my point. You can check your answers at the bottom of the post 🙂 This was always the problem with Android devices. Where Apple iOS accessibility is like a tool belt, Android accessibility is like a big bag. There is probably more in there but you have to find it first. This isn’t Google’s fault, they make great accessibility features. It’s more a result of the open nature of Android. Apple make their own hardware and iOS is designed specifically for that hardware. It’s much more locked down. Android is an open operating system and as such it depends on the hardware manufactured how accessibility is implemented. This has been slowly improving in recent years but Google’s move to bundle all their accessibility features into the Android Accessibility Suite last year meant a huge leap forward in Android accessibility.

What’s in Android Accessibility Suite?

Accessibility Menu

Android OS Accessibility Suite Assistant Menu. An onscreen menu with large colourful buttons for features like, power, lock screen, volume
The figure highlighted in the bottom corner launches whatever Accessibility Suite tools you have active. If you have more than one a long press will allow you switch between tools.

Use this large on-screen menu to control gestures, hardware buttons, navigation, and more. A similar idea to Assistive Touch on iOS. If you are a Samsung Android user it is similar (but not as good in my opinion) as the Assistant Menu already built in.

Select to Speak

The select to speak tool when active on a webpage. large red button to stop speech. Arrow at left to extend menu, pause button

Select something on your screen or point your camera at an image to hear text spoken. This is a great feature for people with low vision or a literacy difficulty. It will read the text on screen when required without being always on like a screen reader. A similar feature was available inbuilt in Samsung devices before inexplicably disappearing with the last Android update. The “point your camera at an image to hear text spoken” claim had me intrigued. Optical Character Recognition like that found in Office Lens or SeeingAI built into the regular camera could be extremely useful. Unfortunately I have been unable to get this feature to work on my Samsung Galaxy A8. Even when selecting a headline in a newspaper I’m told “no text found at that location”.

Switch Access

cartoon hand activating a Blue2 switch. Android phone desktop with message icon highlighted

Interact with your Android device using one or more switches or a keyboard instead of the touch screen. Switch Access on Android has always been the poor cousin to Switch Control on iOS but is improving all the time.

TalkBack Screen Reader

Get spoken, audible, and vibration feedback as you use your device. Googles mobile screen reader has been around for a while, while apparently, like Switch Access it’s improving, I’ve yet to meet anybody who actually uses it full time.

So to summarise, as well as adding features that may have been missing on your particular “flavour” of Android, this suite standardises the accessibility experience and makes it more visible. Also another exciting aspect of these features being bundled in this way is their availability for media boxes. Android is a hugely popular OS for TV and entertainment but what is true of mobile device manufacturer is doubly so of Android Box manufacturers where it is still very much the Wild West. If you are in the market for an Android Box and Accessibility is important make sure it’s running Android Version 6 or later so you can install this suite and take advantage of these features.

Could you name the Apple iOS features?

  1. Zoom
  2. Display Accommodations or Increase Contrast   
  3. VoiceOver
  4. Assistive Touch
  5. Touch Accommodations
  6. Switch Control