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)

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.

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.

Handsfree Lip and chin Joysticks

Person using a BJOY chin joystick to control a computer
User using the BJOY chin joystick

A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, wearable sensors, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  One other possible group of devices are Lip and chin Joysticks. 

These products are designed specifically for users with physical disabilities. They are typically USB Plug and Play, which means they will work with any computer platform that supports USB mice, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Android. All can be customized using the built-in mouse settings in the operating system, while some will also include setup software for further customization.

To activate the mouse buttons. The IntegraMouse+, Jouse3, and QuadJoy incorporate a sip/puff switch into their joystick, so that a sip action clicks one mouse button, and a puff action clicks the other. Other options are switches, the BJOY Chin has two circular switch pads, one on either side of the joystick, which can be pressed using the chin or cheek. And the TetraMouse has a second joystick that is devoted to button actions, right next to the joystick for cursor control. Low cost options are the Tobias’ mouse and the Flipmouse.  This are open source hardware and software projects with documented instruction on how to build and 3D Print.  The user moves the cursor by using a mouthpiece. The right mouse button is operated by pushing the mouthpiece towards the case. The left mouse button is emulated by a sensor that recognizes if the user sucks air through it.

Some Lip and chin Joysticks options to consider are

IntegraMouse+  €2000

Person using a IntegraMouse for mouse control

Jouse3 $1,495

Person using a Jouce3 for mouse control

QuadJoy 3 $1,398.60

Person using a QuadJoy 3 for mouse control

BJOY Chin €445

TetraMouse XA2 $449

TetraMouse XA2 for mouse control

Tobias’ mouse  <€50 for parts

Tobias’ mouse low cost opensource mouse

FLipMouse €179

FLipMouse low cost opensource mouse

Video

  • The good:  These hand free options can potentially have precise control and are not effected by lighting or sound.

The not so good: do require a line-of-sight to the computer, and commercial options are expensive.

The verdict:  If you need or want the ability to make very fine cursor control, and don’t want to wear a sensor or reflective dot then these joysticks are a good option for hands free control.

Hands free reflective dot trackers

user using a refective dot tracker to control their computer

If you have a physical limitation that makes it difficult or impossible to use a traditional mouse with your hands, a hands-free mouse can be critical to accessing a computer comfortably and efficiently. A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as wearable sensors, eye trackers or even speech recognition.  One other possible group of devices are reflective dot trackers. You wear a small reflective dot (often placed as a sticker on the forehead or glasses), and a special sensor unit mounted on or near your computer tracks the motion of the dot to control the mouse cursor as you move.  There is no wired connection between you and the device.   The wearable reflective dot is smaller and less conspicuous than some of the other wearable sensor options. 

These products can replace a traditional mouse for computing platforms such as Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. And some will work with platforms like Android and Chrome OS as well.

Some reflective dot trackers options to consider are as follows

TrackerPro $995

HeadMouse Nano £888.00

SmartNAV 4:AT €465.00

AccuPoint $1,995.00

The good:  If you are OK with wearing the reflective dot you can independently control a mouse cursor without requiring someone to assist putting on a wearable sensor.  Also less chance in something not working than other hands free options such as eye gaze or voice recognition.

The not so good: does require a line-of-sight to the computer, and can be sensitive to lighting conditions.

The verdict:  If you need or want the ability to make very fine, high-resolution movements of the mouse cursor, similar to what is possible with a traditional mouse, then reflective dot trackers are a good option.

Mouse Access for iPad is here

person using a joystick mouse to control an iPad

Until now, people with significant physical disabilities could only operate an iPad or iPhone by switch control. With AMAneo BTi it is possible for the first time to operate an iPad or iPhone directly with any mouse or assistive mouse including a trackball, joystick, head mouse or thumb mouse, and even a wheelchair joystick.  The AMAneo BTi also has some very useful built-in features such as tremor filter, dwell click and 2 jack plugs for external switches.

Simply connect the AMAneo BTi to your iPad or iPhone via Bluetooth and the pointer will automatically appear on your device’s screen, with no additional App required. This allows the user to navigate around the screen and interact with a mouse to connect with friends, browse the internet, and play games.


For more information about the AMAneo BTi https://csslabs.de/amaneo-bti

Supplier Inclusive Technology.

The good:   operate an iPad or iPhone directly with any mouse or assistive mouse.

The not so good: Can’t connect Bluetooth mouse directly to device.

The verdict: This is a long awaited feature for Apple devices that now give a new user experience for people with significant physical disabilities.

IkeaThisAbles – Accessibility hacks that transform many pieces of Ikea furniture

IkeaThisAbles Accessibility hacks

IkeaThisAbles, is a project dedicated to making Ikea furniture available for everybody, including people with disabilities.

The ThisAbles project was conceived to allow people with special needs to enjoy the quality of life provided by IKEA products.

As part of IKEA’s vision to “create a better everyday life for as many people as possible”, they joined forces with the non-profit organizations Milbat and Access Israel, that specialize in creating special solutions for populations with special needs and disabilities, and developed a new line of products that bridge some of the gaps between existing IKEA products and the special needs of people belonging to these populations.

The project allows anyone to 3D print a range of add-ons that simply and easily convert Ikea furniture and accessories into disability-friendly products.   Now people with disabilities from any corner of the world can print add-ons in their nearest 3D printing shop.

For more information

Website: https://thisables.com/en

The good:   The website offers any user to describe a problem that they have and Ikea will try to find a convenient solution.

The not so good: At the moment there is a limited range of product add-ons

The verdict: Interesting project idea that more manufacturers should adopt