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
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.
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/
Courses from a range of topics; from Science &
Technology to Arts & Humanities, from Body & Mind to Business &
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 is a learning community that runs on the web. They run
courses and organize webinars. https://p2pu.org/en/
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
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 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 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 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
Shane Hastings Giveback Directory of free products / services available
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
• 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
• 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Over the course of history there have always been single named women who have influenced our lives and Culture: Cleopatra, Maggie, Madonna, and now it’s the turn of Alexa! I have been curious and intrigued by the benefits of technological assistants with regards my disability, so I was very excited when Enable Ireland gave me an opportunity to try out Alexa in the form of the Amazon Echo.
How easy is it to get the Echo up and running?
initial setup of the Amazon Echo is very simple to carry out. You need to
download the Amazon Alexa app to your smartphone (get used to downloading apps
on your phone), the app will search for the device, the app will then connect
to the device through the devices own Wi-Fi signal, you then connect your
device to your home broadband, and hey presto within a few minutes your Amazon
Echo is up and running.
What can Alexa do on its own?
initial benefits of the Amazon Echo for a person with a disability are very
limited. You can ask Alexa what the weather will be like, what time it is, to
set reminders, and some other quirky less useful questions: “Alexa, tell
me a joke”, “What’s the capital of Finland?”, or more randomly
“Alexa, beatbox for me”.
the Alexa app you can enable other skills to assist you in your daily
activities. If you are into music you can add 🙂 your Spotify profile to Alexa,
this is very simple to do if you can use a smartphone. Alexa will then play
your playlists through its impressive speakers. This is very handy, even for
someone who is not into music much, as it means I don’t need to listen to music
through my basic phone speakers nor do I have to call someone to change a cd in
my stereo. It is great for podcasts as well, though as Alexa sometimes has
difficulty understanding people you might be better off setting up a playlist
through your Spotify app first if any of your favourite podcasts have quirky
names like my favourite Arsenal podcast Arsecast by Arseblog!
you have vision impairment, have difficulty holding a book, or you just like
Audiobooks you can quickly add your Audible account too, tilt back in your
chair and listen to your favourite book or a new release. It can also update
you with the latest news, traffic, and weather for your area as well.
you have trouble with your memory because of a head injury, or you just have a
head like a sieve as I do, the reminders and timers could be very useful. I
normally add reminders to my phone as I can’t write them down but just
immediately calling them out is useful as sometimes I go to add them to my
phone and get distracted by Twitter and the likes. The timers are useful if
you’re cooking and the chicken needs just five minutes more.
What can Alexa do using IOT – The Internet Of Things?
For someone with a physical disability this is where it
really sparked my interest. I struggle with some aspects of technology and to
physically control my environment so I thought I would benefit from Alexa and
Smart WeMo Plug
Firstly I decided to set up the lamp in my sitting room. In order to use Alexa to switch on your light you either need a smart plug or you need smart bulbs and a Wi-Fi hub. Enable Ireland had also provided me with a WeMo smart plug in this instance. The setup for the WeMo smart plug was very similar to the initial setup of the Amazon Echo: download the app, connect to the devices own Wi-Fi, and connect the device to your home broadband.
Once you have that done you can control the lamp directly
from your smartphone only if you wanted, in order to connect it to the Alexa
you need to go back to the Alexa app and pair the Alexa with the WeMo smart
plug from there.
Overall it is very simple System and process and once you
have it up all you have to do is say “Alexa, turn on the lamp”. This
was a complete success and over the time I had the devices this is the one that
proved most simple to use and most consistent. It was lovely if I was on my own
for a little while coming toward evening, I could give that simple command and
“Let there be light!”
The other devices I had to connect to the Echo were related to the TV. I use an Amazon fire stick to play games on my TV and also to watch Netflix. I knew from watching YouTube videos that you could pair your Amazon Echo with your fire stick and use Alexa to open Netflix and play your movies and shows.
Unfortunately this was not so easy to carry out. It seemed simple at first, get your Alexa device to scan your Wi-Fi for compatible devices and when you see the Firestick click connect. Unfortunately this is where I ran into some problems. In order to get the Alexa to carry out these procedures I had to enable its TV skills through the app. I had to do something similar to set up my Spotify account so I wasn’t too worried at first. Frustratingly when I went into the app to enable that TV skill the screen went blank and gave me no options to enable it. After numerous attempts to carry this out and searches on the internet to find a solution I eventually contacted Amazon’s online support and having gone through three advisors I found the solution by enabling it through my laptop and my Amazon account on the Desktop site. Phew!
The results of that is I can come into sitting room in the
morning, with the TV turned off, and ask Alexa to open Netflix. If you know the
name of the movie or show you want to watch you can ask Alexa to open it
directly. You can play, pause and fast forward or rewind whatever you are
watching. This has been very helpful for me is the remote for my fire stick is
tiny and the buttons are incredibly difficult to press. If you are a movie buff
and have difficulties using small remotes then this solution is probably worth
all the hassle it took to set it up in the first place!
In the package from Enable Ireland there was also a Logitech
Harmony Hub. At first, I had no idea what it was. I had never heard of it
before. A bit of Googling revealed that it is a universal remote control. A bit
of YouTubing revealed that it could be paired with Alexa to turn on and control
a whole host of electronic devices including your TV, Stereo System, or Sky
This is a complex setup. You set up the Harmony hub much the same way as you do the other devices. So again that means you need to download another app to connect it to your Wi-Fi, I hope you have enough space on your smartphone! Once it is set up and ready to go you need to use the Alexa app to enable the Harmony Hub skill so Alexa can communicate with the Harmony Hub. Now use the Harmony App to scan for smart devices that may be on your Wi-Fi already, like a smart TV. If you have something that is not smart like my Sky box, you simply search in the app for the product and add it to your list of devices. Right, now that you have your devices listed and the Hub and Alexa can talk to one another what can you tell them to do?
Using the Harmony app you can set up a range of
“activities”. These are relatively easy to set up as you follow a step by step
process through the app. Quite quickly I had it set up so that I could tell
Alexa to turn on the TV, it would turn on the TV and set it to the Sky TV
extension immediately. I also set it up so I could increase and decrease the
volume of the TV and I could change the ordinary terrestrial channels on the TV.
I have seen that you can change channels on your Sky box and set “favourite
channels” to tune to quickly but, frustratingly, while I can do that through
the Harmony app on my phone I haven’t been able to do that using Alexa despite
numerous and persistent attempts. Apparently, it is possible if you set an “activity”
for each individual channel but life is too short!
If you are technically proficient enough and you have a big
enough budget there are whole host of other devices you could use with the
Alexa to smarten up your home whether it is to control your heating or even to
unlock your door!
Are there Privacy Issues?
There are some concerns about privacy and the Alexa. Some of
the stories surrounding this issue I’m sure have been exaggerated for headlines
but there is a basis to some of the concern too with Amazon admitting that
staff listen to people’s interactions with Alexa (I think they’ll get a laugh
from some of my frustrated interactions where Alexa was called everything under
the sun while I tried in vain to control the Sky box via Alexa).
download the Alexa app. This sort of sets the tone for what to expect with
I know from my experience with the Alexa that there have
been some strange happenings. During conversations in the same room as the
Alexa the blue light that indicates Alexa is listening has come on. On another
occasion Alexa has piped up with search results that were not asked for in the
middle of a conversation. Nothing too sinister I’m sure but something I’m
personally not too comfortable with.
It’s up to you whether you’re willing to give up that sense
of personal privacy in place of the benefits Alexa provides.
I was very excited to try out the Amazon Echo and Alexa. I
felt this was my opportunity to finally make up my mind on whether to purchase
one or not, a decision I had been debating over for some time.
Alexa promises so much to help me with my physical
disability. Overall in this aspect it did live up to expectation. It was
frustrating that I couldn’t manage to set it up to operate my Sky box but I was
able to set it up to use most the functions on my TV, and the Alexa in
conjunction with the WeMo plug gave the most satisfying and consistent function
of switching my sitting room lamp on and off. If I were to purchase an Echo I
would consider investing further into the other devices that could do as the
WeMo plug did.
The other aspects of the Echo were less beneficial to me as
they didn’t involve improving my access to my physical environment. That does
not take away from the fact that they could be hugely beneficial for someone
with a different disability such as a sensory disability: reminders, timers,
your Spotify, and your Audiobooks through Alexa would simplify so many parts of
a person’s life.
For someone with a high level disability or someone who has difficulty using a smartphone the set up process of the Echo itself may be a little complex. The set up process for some of the “activities” on the Harmony Hub would take the most seasoned of smartphone users to the point where they just give up (ie. me 🙂
The initial cost of the Amazon Echo is very affordable.
However, if someone with a disability wishes to use the Echo and Alexa to its
full potential to make their lives more independent then they will need to
spend a lot more. A quick Google suggested that a Wi-Fi plug similar to the
WeMo plug is €22 each while a Harmony Hub remote is available for approximately
€120. So if you’re hoping to live in a completely smart home it’s going to be
difficult if you’re sole source of income is your Disability Allowance.
All that being said, that decision I have been debating over
for some time, have I made it? Well, in a sense I have. I am fortunate to be
able to use my mobile phone without much difficulty so in the short term I
think I will get a Harmony Hub which will allow me to carry out most of what
Alexa has been doing for me on this trial but through my phone and without the
worry of Amazon employees listening in on me. In the medium to long term I’m sure
I’ll revisit Alexa or even the Google equivalent!
Some time back, when I was finishing up a photography shoot,
I met a gentleman who had informed me that his photography career had been cut
short due to having a stroke a few years earlier. This was back in 2011, and
options were a lot more limited in terms of cameras, software and accessibility
in general. Earlier in the year, as part of my Foundations in AT course, it was
suggested to me to incorporate my photography background into my project. Now
in 2019, there are a lot more options for accessibility in photography, between
mounts for the cameras, wi-fi connectivity between camera and PC/Phone/Tablet.
However taking the photo is only half the work for a photographer.
Film photographers have to develop their photos, Digital photographers have to edit their photos. Adobe Lightroom is an industry standard program for editing photos. It is also very shortcut friendly. As a result, I was able to make it work with Grid 3 to enable basic editing such as converting to black and white, adjusting colour balance, brightness. Contrast and exposure. Cropping and converting an image from Portrait to Landscape and vice versa could also be achieved via the Grid. In the short time I had to create this grid, it can be easily expanded on, adding access to other modules (such as Export, Slideshow, Book, Print, etc) to access other features like Slideshow Templates, Print Setup, Exporting with previous settings or email a photo. While functionality of this grid is minimal, there is plenty of room for expansion.
echo buttons come in packs of two costing around €20, making them very
affordable. The echo buttons began as a children’s game console. Alexa can play
a wide variety of games including: Amazon Echo Buttons
Trivial Pursuit Tap
Alexa asks a question
from one of six categories and friends compete to buzz their echo button first
and answer the question correctly.
Alexa reads a series of
clues and the first person to buzz their echo button and solve the puzzle gets
This game requires two
to four players. Too score a point you must be the first person to tap your
button when all buttons turn the same colour. The person with the most taps
Squeak in the Night
2-4 mice go on the hunt
for any food they can find, however they must keep away from the cat lucy.
These are the apps introduced with the buttons, however there is a much
wider variety in the amazon store, many of which are free.
As well as
the fun games available, you can add smarthome features to the echo buttons.
Simply click the top left corner of the homepage of the alexa app, out of the
options that appear click on routines. Click the plus symbol in the top right corner
of routines. Firstly choose “when this happens” then select the echo button.
You will be asked to click the echo button you wish to perform the task. Finally
click “add action”, followed by smart home. Here there will be multiple
functions for the button to perform, for example “turn on lamp”. Once you have
selected the function you want, click save and play around with the buttons as
much as you want.
The good: Echo buttons are very good value and they allow you to perform household jobs eg, turning on and off the lights with ease.
The not so good: The buttons only allow for one function each, for example if one button has already been programmed to turn on the bedroom light, it cannot be programmed to do anything else.
The verdict: For such a reasonable price, echo buttons can carry out functions that are very beneficial to home owners.
I have always been a bit of a gamer. From Tetris on the original Gameboy to Sonic and the SEGA Mega Drive, I was always keen to pass the time away rapidly instructing a cartoon character to bounce from one side of the screen to another. Since I acquired my disability in 1999 though I felt that large parts of this world were now no longer accessible to me. I felt with limited use of my arms and no use of my fingers consoles were out of the question. That changed recently when the Xbox brought out their new accessible controller.
I had tried to use several different games on the PlayStation and the Xbox, my nephew had a PlayStation and I had been able to use the left stick and some of the buttons on the ordinary controller but despite me telling him not to use the trigger buttons which were inaccessible to me I still got hammered several times by him on FIFA.
This new accessible controller seemed as though it would provide me with the opportunity to have the full experience of console gaming again, but who is going to buy an Xbox One and accessible controller just to see if they can use it or not? Thankfully Enable Ireland came to my rescue and they allowed me to borrow their console and controller for the period of a month.
XBox Adaptive Controller (XAC)
controller is simple to use and simple to set up. I needed some help to physically
plug some aids in and out of the controller but apart from that it was a
The controller is setup for people of all abilities. The variety of configurations
is as wide as the number of disabilities of the people who it is geared to
Some games I used just the accessible controller with the coloured plug in
switches that Enable Ireland provided alongside the console.
For other more complicated games, I used the Co-Pilot feature. The Co-Pilot feature allows you
to use the ordinary controller as best you can while using the accessible
controller switches for any bits or buttons on the ordinary controller that you
My setup for Forza, the car racing game, was the simplest of
all. I took 4 of the aid switches and plugged them into the accessible
controller, one was plugged into RT for the accelerator, one was plugged into
LT for the brake, and the remaining two were plugged into the left and right
the d-pad. I placed the RT switch under my elbow to continuously accelerate, which
then meant my hands only had to focus on the three remaining buttons for
steering and braking. That was a huge success, and meant I did not need any
assistance throughout any of the gameplay on that particular game. Though that
does not mean I was a great driver!
FIFA I used the Co-Pilot feature. I used the ordinary controller as I had done
previously with my nephew, steering my player with the left stick while
passing, tackling, shooting, etc with the usual A, B, X, and Y buttons.
I used the Xbox Accessible Controller then for the sprint and switch player options.
I simply plugged in the switches into the RT and LT ports on the accessible
controller and played normally on the ordinary controller while occasionally
tapping the switches to change player or holding them down
with my elbow to sprint.
A very successful and intelligent solution which resulted in a 5-1 victory for
me over my nephew! His face was a picture 🙂
Ryse, GTA & Battlefield
Each of these I played with a similar set up to FIFA (pictured above). I used the Co-Pilot feature, the ordinary controller in conjunction with the accessible controller with four switches plugged into the RT, LT, RB, and LB ports.
These games were a bit more intricate in their controls in
comparison to the others and a little more difficult to use as a result. The
accessible controller meant though that it was possible for me to at least give
it a go.
This controls setup was good and meant that I
actually completed the story mode of Ryse, on easy.
I could play the vast majority of GTA and Battlefield without any difficulty,
but there were certain issues. To use the character’s “special abilities”
in GTA you had to press down on both the left and right sticks. I think you
could set that up but that would require two more switches which I didn’t have.
Also, on occasion, while I had all the right buttons the scenario in the game
was so complex that it involved pressing a number of buttons and steering at
least one, if not both, sticks at the same time. It was almost equivalent to
playing some musical instrument. On one mission I did have to fall back on some
assistance from my nephew.
it is still not quite the same as gaming prior to my disability the Xbox
Accessible Controller has reopened the prospect of gaming properly on a regular
basis and owning a console of my own again. This was a world that I thought had
long left me behind but thanks to Microsoft and Xbox I’m
right back in the game!
OpenHAB is a free and open source solution for the smart home. In the quickly growing smart home market, the industry has come up with a vast number of standards, protocols and products, for example, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Echo or Google Home. They usually don’t integrate well together as there is hardly any interoperability across vendors. Also, the only thing they connect to is their respective cloud service, which could mean a typical smart home may depend on many remote servers. The openHAB project has attracted a large developer community, which looks at the smart home from a user perspective: This makes features like offline capability, data privacy and customisability top priorities for a smart home solution.
The good: The openHAB project makes features like offline capability, data privacy and customisability top priorities for a smart home solution.
The not so good: complicated initial setup with a steep learning curve. It presumes a level of technical competence to allow for successful setup.
The verdict: This solution for the smart home has clear benefits over current smart home solutions with regard to reliability, latency (that is, the time it takes for a signal to reach and turn on/off a device) and data privacy.