‘Eye-Touch’ – an eye-controlled musical instrument

Last week we were visited in Enable Ireland, Sandymount, by two of the most experienced practitioners working in the area of assistive music technology. Dr Tim Anderson http://www.inclusivemusic.org.uk/ and Elin Skogdal (SKUG) dropped by to talk about the new eyegaze music software they have been developing and to share some tips with the musicians from Enable Ireland Adult’s Services. Tim Anderson has been developing accessible music systems for the last 25 years. E-Scape which he developed, is the only MIDI composition and performance software designed from the ground up for users of alternative input methods (Switch, Joystick and now Eyegaze). Tim also works as an accessible music consultant for schools and councils. Elin Skogdal is a musician and educator based at the SKUG Centre. She has been using Assistive Music Technology in music education since 2001 and was one of those responsible for establishing the SKUG Centre. The SKUG Centre is located in Tromsø, Northern Norway. SKUG stands for “Performing Music Together Without Borders”, and the aim of the Centre is to provide opportunities for people who can’t use conventional instruments to play and learn music. SKUG is part of the mainstream art school of Tromsø (Tromsø Kulturskole), which provides opportunities for SKUG students to collaborate with other music and dance students and teachers. SKUG have students at all levels and ages – from young children to university students. If you would to like to know more about Elin’s work at SKUG click here to read a blog post from Apollo Ensemble.

Following the visit and workshop they sent us some more detailed information about the exciting new eyegaze music software they are currently developing Eye-Touch. We have included this in the paragraphs below. If you are interested in getting involved in their very user lead development process you can contact us here (comments below) and we will put you in touch with Tim and Elin.

‘Eye-touch’ (Funded by ‘NAV Hjelpemidler og tilrettelegging’ in 2017, and Stiftelsen Sophie’s Minde in 2018) is a software instrument being developed by the SKUG centre (Part of ‘Kulturskolen i Tromsø’), in collaboration with Dr. Tim Anderson, which enables people to learn and play music using only their eyes. It includes a built-in library of songs called ‘Play-screens’, with graphical buttons which play when you activate them.
Buttons are laid out on screen to suit the song and the player’s abilities, and can be of any size and colour, or show a picture. When you look at a button (using an eye-gaze tracking system such as Tobii or Rolltalk) it plays its musical content. You can also play buttons in other ways to utilise the screen’s attractive look: you can touch a touch-screen or smartboard, press switches or PC keys, or hit keys on a MIDI instrument.
The music within each button can either be musical notes played on a synthesised instrument, or an audio sample of any recorded sound, for example animal noises or sound effects. Sound samples can also be recordings of people’s voices speaking or singing words or phrases. So a child in a class group could play vocal phrases to lead the singing (‘call’), with the other children then answering by singing the ‘response’.

see caption

Pictured above, a pupil in Finland is trying out playing a screen with just three buttons, with musical phrases plus a sound effect of a roaring bear (popular with young players!). She has been using the system for just a few minutes, and was successfully playing the song, which proved very enjoyable and motivating for her.

SKUG’s experience from their previous prototype system has led to the incorporation of some innovative playing features, which distinguish it from other eyegaze music systems, and have been shown to enable people to play who couldn’t otherwise. These features provide an easy entry level, and we have found that they enable new users to start playing immediately and gain motivation. These support features can also be changed or removed by teachers to suit each player’s abilities, and most importantly, be able to evolve as a player practises and improves. One feature is to have the buttons in a sequence which can only be played in the right order, so the player can ‘look over’ other buttons to get to the next ‘correct’ button.
Here are two examples: The Play-screen below has buttons each containing a single note, arranged as a keyboard with colouring matching the Figurenotes scheme. A player with enough ability could learn a melody and play it by moving between the buttons in the empty space below. But by putting the buttons into a sequence order, the player is able to learn and play the melody far more easily – they can look over buttons to get to the next ‘correct’ button (note) of the song, without playing the buttons in between.

screen shot from eyetouch
As well as illustrating a general theme, the facility to add pictures gives us many more possibilities. The Play-screen below left has buttons which show pictures and play sounds and music relating to J.S. Bach’s life story. The buttons could be played freely, but in this case have been put into a sequence order to illustrate his life chronologically. As before, a player can move through the buttons to play then in order, even though they are close together. But we may want to make them even bigger, and make the player’s job even easier, by setting to only display the ‘next’ button in the sequence (below right). So the other buttons are hidden, and the player only sees the button which is next to play, and can then move onto it.

bach lesson can be split into stages to make it more accessibleplay screen featuring images representing the life of classical musician Bach. Each picture plays some music from that period

There is also an accompanying text to tell the story which, if desired, can be displayed on screen via a built in ‘song-sheet’. Teachers can also make their own Play-screens by putting their own music into buttons – by either playing live on a MIDI keyboard, or recording their own sound samples. To further personalise a Play-screen for a pupil, people can also organise and edit all the visual aspects including adding their own pictures.
The Eye-Touch software is also very easy to install and operate – we have found it quick and easy to install it on school pupils’ eye-gaze tablets, and it worked for them straight away.
In January 2018 the SKUG team started a project to further develop Eye-Touch to expand the ways of playing, the creating and editing facilities for teachers, and the range of songs provided in the library.



Accessibility self-driving shuttle

Olli is an all-electric autonomous vehicle, packed with features to help people with disabilities

Olli by Local Motors (PRNewsfoto/Local Motors)

The future of autonomous vehicles where transport becomes more flexible, seamless and shareable between people and businesses for a variety of uses is getting closer.

There have been a number of concept autonomous vehicles that went on display at the latest CES tech show which is the global stage in Las Vegas where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.  Toyota unveiled its e-Palette autonomous shuttle, while the French company Navya demonstrated the Arma shuttle.

Accessible Olli was designed from the ground up to help people with disabilities get where they need to go.

Olli is an all-electric autonomous vehicle, packed with features to help people with disabilities and older people to get around.  There’s a retractable wheelchair ramp, software that can process sign language, and displays inside offering simplified information and reminders for people with cognitive disabilities like memory loss.

Accessible Olli will be road tested in a few months in places including Copenhagen and Buffalo, New York, and will offer a new approach to mass transit, in which a driverless shuttle could someday pick you up at any hour of the day.

The days of owning your own car could soon be over!

Technology to help people with dementia maintain independence

Dementia is a term which describes a range of conditions which cause damage to our brain. This damage affects memory, thinking, language and our ability to perform everyday tasks.  Although technology may not fix someone’s deficits, it will give them a better quality of life and peace of mind for their family. Assistive technology can help support and enable people with conditions such as dementia to live more independently.

Pendant alarm

One of the most common technologies that can enable people with dementia to live more independently is a Pendant Alarm.  The aim of the pendant alarm is to support an individual living independently by ensuring they are safe while alone.  For example if they have a fall or any other major concern they can press the pendant to beckon help.  The pendant is typically worn around the neck as a necklace or around the wrist as a watch. The pendant alarm can also signal the presence of a hazard requiring urgent attention, such as high smoke or a carbon monoxide levels, as various sensors can be linked to the pendent alarm system.  These devices can be further linked to a Monitoring Centre that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week.  If a personal alarm or accompanying sensor is activated, a call is immediately alerted to the 24 hour Monitoring Centre where it will be answered by a trained telecare operator. The internal speaker and microphone on the Pendant Alarm will allow the operator to speak hands free with someone until help arrives. The operator will remain on the line until the situation has been resolved and they are satisfied that the person is back in good hands.  In Ireland the cost of a Pendant alarm package is covered by a grant available under the Seniors Alert Scheme. This is open to those over the age of 65, and covers the cost of having a socially monitored alarm installed at home.

Pendant alarm for assisted living

A Pendant to activate the alarm is worn around the neck or the wrist.  Pendants can be subtle such as the Minute Watch which is discreet high quality watch that incorporates a personal alarm.

Once alarm is activated the centre is contacted which will allow the operator to speak hands free to the client.

Minuet Watch from Tunstall Emergency pendant alarm

Prompts and reminders

An individual with dementia over time may have a decrease in their ability to think and remember, they may need reminders to help them with their daily activities, such as making meals, feeding pets or taking their medication.  There are various gadgets currently available which can provide prompts and reminders and generally, make their life a bit easier.

It's Done app provides a checklist for life's everyday critical tasks

As most people are rarely without their mobile phone, setting up a reminder app could be a useful way to help them remember important things. Some apps worth trying include Wunderlist (free) which lets you create different lists for different topics.  Another app which is also useful is called It’s Done!  It’s Done is essentially an app that provides a checklist for life’s everyday critical tasks such as locking doors, feeding pets, taking medication, and turning off the stove.   This allows you to go back and check your routine everyday tasks if you have forgotten.

Pill dispenser

If apps are not sufficient for an individual to remember to take their medication then there is the option of a Pill dispenser.  Pills can be divided up into days, morning and evening and fitted into their own compartments. An alarm will sound when s/he need to take his pills. Some dispensers can be programmed to only release the set number of pills each time, locking away the rest until they’re needed.

Pill dispensers can be programmed to only release the set number of pills each time, locking away the rest until they’re needed.

Useful apps

If an individual struggles to remember people’s names, an app called Knome (free) can help by setting up profiles for people the person meets, including pictures and explanations of how they know them.

For those who occasionally misplaces items such as wallet or keys around the home, a key finder will help reduce frustration and disappointment.

The Object Locator is a gadget that offers a simplistic solution. The beepers can be attached to items with the key rings or with Velcro to handbags, or a glasses case.   You just press the labelled remote control to activate a beeper.

key finder for those who occasionally misplaces items such as wallet or keys

Maintaining cognitive abilities

Studies have found that playing games which challenge people on reasoning and problem solving can help people over 60 to get on better with their daily activities.  In 2006, the ACTIVE Study, funded by National Institute of Health, demonstrated that older adults could improve their brain abilities with the correct training. Certain mental exercises can partially offset the expected decline in older adults’ thinking skills and show promise for maintaining cognitive abilities needed to do everyday tasks.

There a number of brain trainer sites such as Lumosity and Fit brains.

brain trainer for maintaining cognitive abilities

Both sites feature a combination of cognitive games that are aimed at “exercising” the brain. The games challenge memory and attention by engaging the user in common cognitive and neuropsychological tasks.

Out and about

For individuals who may become lost in familiar places such as their own neighbourhood or village, the installation of a suitable route planner on a Smart Phone may be good idea.  It will pick out the best way to get somewhere, or back home again.

route planner on a Smart Phone. It will pick out the best way to get somewhere, or back home again.

Many people may still want to enjoy the freedom of taking their dog out for a walk.  Pendant alarms do not typically work outside the range of the home.  However an individual’s condition becomes worse an emergency phone such as a Pushphone OK may provide valuable support.  This is an emergency phone with GPS for location, Fall monitoring and GEO-fencing.

Pushphone OK, this is an emergency phone with GPS for location, Fall monitoring and GEO-fencing.

With the Pushphone OK you can call the number you have stored on the upper two buttons (red and green handset) by pressing the respective button for a longer time.  The person who is called can also receive an SMS with the link of the position data.

On the upper right side there is the little red button. This button should be configured for the worst case. The button can be connected to the local ambulance 112.

With the Geofencing (entering a certain radius.) If the person moves out of the given area, a message is sent to the smartphone.)

Inclusive Design in Action: The Banking sector leading the way

Through our Community Design Challenge, we’ve worked in partnership with Adult Expert AT Users and Product Design students on a variety of projects, all with the shared aim of finding innovative solutions to daily living challenges.

One of our recent projects involved the creation of an accessible banking solution for a woman with vision impairment:

Barclay’s Bank in the UK is leading the way in accessible banking. See how they’re doing it here


Site preview of Barclays Bank Accessible Banking feature article

Accessible Apps, Games and Toys

a range of toys

Enable Ireland’s National Assistive Technology Service has gathered together information on a range of accessible toys. It includes a variety of accessible games, apps, and toys. These are not recommendations but simply a selection of items which may be of interest, particularly at times such as Christmas and birthdays, when presents are high on the list of priorities.

Available here as Accessible-Apps-Games-and-Toys   (pdf) and Accessible-Apps-Games-and-Toys (Word document)

First National FreedomTech Assembly, Aviva Stadium, November 16th 2017

Freedomtech a passport to inclusion

Our vision for Assistive Technology; A society where everyone with a disability or disabling condition, and older people, has access to affordable, up to date and appropriate technology that suits their needs. Technology may be mainstream or specialised, it supports the individual to exercise their human right to self-determination, freedom of movement and participation in society

Assistive Technology can support us here in Ireland to realise the ambition that we have to include people with disabilities in all aspects of living, in line with the ambition of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).


RTE NEWS – Disability campaigners have called for the introduction of a system to enable disabled and older people to access appropriate technology to help them in their daily life.

Click here to read the full story and view the video on rte.ie 

Listen to Newstalk Interview by Jess Kelly with Siobhan Long.


New Windows 10 accessible updates

Microsoft has been making huge strides in the realm of accessibility with each successive update to Windows and have invested in updates to improve the user experience for people with disabilities.  The improvements in their Ease of Access features include eye tracking, the narrator, low vision features, and reading and writing improvements.


Eye Control

Eye Control delivers new exciting updates and new tools.  For users who can’t use a mouse or keyboard to control their computer, Eye Control presents a convenient entry point to a windows computer using eye-tracking technology. Having access to your computer via Eye Control gives individuals a way to communicate, the ability to stay in the workforce, and so much more!

What began as a hack project during a One Week Hackathon, has become a product concept for the Windows team.  Microsoft has introduced Eye Control, which empowers people with disabilities to use a compatible eye tracker, such as a Tobii Eye Tracker, to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech in Windows 10 using only their eyes.

demo of shap writing on Eye Control - works like swiping on a touch keyboard. dwell on the first letter of a word, glance at subsequent letters and dwell on last letter. word is entered


Microsoft Learning Tools

The New Learning Tools capabilities within Microsoft Edge Microsoft Learning Tools are a set of features designed to make it easier for people with learning differences like dyslexia to read. In this update, a user can mow simultaneously highlight and listen to text in web pages and PDF documents to read and increase focus.

Now with the addition of the Immersive Reader functionality of Learning Tools you can photograph a document, export it to immersive reader and immediately use the tools to support your understanding of the text.




Narrator will include the ability to use artificial intelligence to generate descriptions for images that lack alternative text. For websites or apps that don’t have alt-text built in, this feature will provide descriptions of an image.  Narrator will now also include the ability to send commands from a keyboard, touch or braille display and get feedback about what the command does without invoking the command.  Also, there will be some Braille improvements – Narrator users can type and read using different braille translations. Users can now perform braille input for application shortcuts and modifier keys.


Desktop Magnifier

Desktop Magnifier is also getting an option to smooth fonts and images, along with mouse wheel scrolling to zoom in and out. It is now possible to use Magnifier with Narrator, so you can zoom in on text and have it read aloud.



Dictation on the Desktop

This feature already allowed people to speak into their microphone, and convert using Windows Speech Recognition into text that appears on the screen. In the Windows 10 Update, a person can now use dictation to convert spoken words into text anywhere on your PC

To start dictating, select a text field and press the Windows logo key  + H to open the dictation toolbar. Then say whatever’s on your mind.

As well as dictating text, you can also use voice commands to do basic editing or to input punctuation. (English only)


Colour filters

If it’s hard to see what’s on the screen, you can apply a color filter. Color filters change the color palette on the screen and can help you distinguish between things that differ only by color.

To change your color filter, select Start  > Settings  > Ease of Access  > Color & high contrast . Under Choose a filter, select a color filter from the menu. Try each filter to see which one suits you best.


Read the full Microsoft blog on the accessibility updates in Windows 10 Fall Creator.

Fair play to Microsoft for investing so heavily in developing their Ease of Access features.

FreedomTech National Assembly

Freedomtech a passport to inclusion


Three weeks to go until our first National Assembly !

FreedomTech National Assembly: Making It Happen

This event is for all stakeholders, including service providers committed to developing innovative supports and interested in exploring how technology can help. We will explore the design and delivery of an effective Ecosystem including the Assistive Technology Passport model. This event is inspired by the 2016 discussion paper developed by Enable Ireland and DFI:  ‘Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities and Older People: A Discussion Paper’.

We have an exceptional line-up of local and international speakers including:

  • Hector Minto:         Microsoft’s Accessibility Evangelist
  • David Banes:         International Assistive Technology Consultant
  • Stephen Cluskey: Co-founder, Mobility Mojo and Disability Advocate

The Assembly takes place at 9.00 am on Thursday 16th November 2017 in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin 4.

To book, please see here


Route4U – Accessible route planning

Tamas and Peter from route4u.org called in last week to tell us about their accessible route finding service. Based on Open Street Maps, Route4u allows users to plan routes that are appropriate to their level and method of mobility. Available on iOS, Android and as a web app at route4u.org/maps, Route4u is the best accessible route planning solution I have seen. Where a service like Mobility Mojo gives detailed accessibility information on destinations (business, public buildings), route4u concentrates more on the journey, making them complementary services. When first setting up the app you will be given the option to select either pram, active wheelchair, electronic wheelchair, handbike or walking (left screenshot below). You can further configure your settings later in the accessibility menu selecting curb heights and maximum slopes etc. (right screenshot below)

Accessibility screen shot featuring settings like maximum slope or curb height

Further configure your settings in Accessibility

select you vehicle screen - see text above

You are first asked to select your mobility method

This is great but so far nothing really groundbreaking, we have seen services like this before. Forward thinking cities with deep pockets like London and Ontario have had similar accessibility features built into their public transport route planners for the last decade. That is a lot easier to achieve however because you are dealing with a finite number of route options. Where Route4u is breaking new ground is that it facilitates this level of planning throughout an entire city. It does this by using the technology built into smartphones to provide crowdsourced data that constantly updates the maps. If you are using a wheelchair or scooter the sensors on your smartphone can measure the level of vibration experienced on a journey. This data is sent back to route4u who use it to estimate the comfort experienced on that that journey, giving other users access to even more information on which to base their route choice. The user doesn’t have to do anything, they are helping to improve the service by simply using it. Users can also more proactively improve the service by marking obstacles they encounter on their journey. The obstacle can be marked as temporary or permanent. Temporary obstacles like road works or those ubiquitous sandwich boards that litter our pavements will remain on the map helping to inform the accessibility of the route until another user confirms they have been removed and enters that information.

Example of obstacle added by user - pictusr of curb that may not be accessible to wheelchair

Example of obstacle added by user –

Example of obstacle added by user - picture of gate which would not be accessible to wheelchair

Example of obstacle added by user

If you connect route4u to your FaceBook account you get access to a points based reward system. This allows you compete with friends and have your own league table. In Budapest where they are already well established they have linked with sponsors who allow you cash points in for more tangible rewards like a free breakfast or refreshment. These gamification features should help encourage users less inclined towards altruism to participate and that is key. Route4u when established relies on its users to keep information up to date. This type of service based on crowdsourced data is a proven model, particularly in the route planning sphere. It’s a bit of a catch 22 however as a service needs to be useful first to attract users. It is early days for Route4u in Dublin and Tamas and Peter acknowledge that a lot of work needs to be done before promoting the service here. Over the next few months their team will begin mapping Dublin city centre, this way, when they launch there will be the foundation of an accessible route finding service which people can use, update and build upon. While route4u has obvious benefits for end users with mobility difficulties there is another beneficiary of the kind of data this service will generate. Tamas and Peter were also keen to point out how this information could be used by local authorities to identify where infrastructure improvements are most needed and where investment will yield the most return. In the long run this will help Dublin and her residents tackle the accessibility problem from both sides making it a truly smart solution.

map showing blue, green and red routes

Area that has been mapped

Legend showing levels of accessibility

Legend showing levels of accessibility


Distraction-free studying!

We all know what it’s like being in school when the sun is shining outside and all you can think about is being out there!  Or when you’re trying to get your homework done and all you can think about is who’s posting what on Snapchat or Instagram?  Or have you ever found yourself managing to get a study block done and then taking a well-deserved 5-minute break to take a peek at social media, only to emerge from your phone a half an hour later and way behind on your study schedule?  Well, the following free apps are for you! In fact, they’re for anyone who wants to use their time on their computer or smartphone more productively, whether you’re a student or not.


Stay Focused

Screenshot of Stay Focused web appStay Focused is a free google chrome extension that helps you to stay focused on your work by stopping you from looking at time-wasting websites (e.g. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter).  You set a certain amount of time in the day that you’re allowed to look at those distracting websites and then once your allotted time for the day has been used up, it blocks you out of them.  End of distractions!  You can also choose to have a complete block on the websites that are your major culprits for time-wasting.


Leech Block

Screenshot of Leech Block web app

This one works in a similar way to Stay Focused but it’s for the Mozilla Firefox browser instead of Chrome.  You can specify up to six sets of sites to block, with different times and days for each set (e.g. you could have Twitter blocked from 9am to 5pm and Facebook blocked for all but 10 minutes in every hour).


Strict Workflow

Screenshot of Strict Workflow web appThis is one of many apps that use the timing principle behind the Pomodoro Technique (i.e. you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, then after four of these sessions you can take a longer break of 15-30mins).  This Google Chrome extension helps you to concentrate on your work by blocking a list of websites for the amount of time you’ve set and once your working period is over, it’ll unblock those sites to give you a break from work before you hit those books again!



Screenshot of Offtime phone app

Offtime is an app for iOS and Android smartphones that not only lets you block calls, texts and notifications when you’re trying to work, but it can also track your phone and app usage so you can identify what distracts you most.  You can set different profiles, like School, Family and Me Time and when you’re finished your work, it gives you an activity log with a list of everything that happened while you were working so you don’t have to worry about missing out on anything.

So, with these apps you’ll be able to maximise your study time and even better, you’ll be able to look at all your favourite websites and apps guilt-free on your breaks!