Microsoft has announced the Xbox Adaptive Controller, an Xbox controller designed for people with disabilities. It has two large programmable buttons and 19 jacks that can be connected to a range of joysticks, buttons, and switches to make it easier for a wider range of people to play games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. This is an exciting development and has the potential to radically transform the gaming experiences of individuals with different access needs.
Good news: www.accessandinclusion.net, from David Banes, international AT consultant, has just published the first issue of a new free magazine featuring a whole raft of diverse articles written by people with disabilities from across the globe.
Voices is a welcome arrival: a challenging, creative mix of views and news on a host of different topics. The first issue features a piece on whether or not the writer feels defined by her disability alongside another that probes our views on invisible disabilities, informed by Lady Gaga’s recent cancellation of her tour due to fibromyalgia.
This quarterly online publication offers a valuable platform for debate and discussion on all manner of topics which impact on people’s lives, and I for one, am looking forward to the next issue already….and hoping that there will be some Irish voices to be heard in this burgeoning global community!
Thank you David Banes for curating such a vibrant mix of Voices….
National AT Training Service
Kildare libraries have been hosting a number free workshops for children with additional needs and their parents. The list of upcoming workshops are listed below and they look very informative. Workshops are given by experienced Occupational Therapists.
Attendance at all of the events is free of charge and open to everyone. Please contact the library where the talk is happening to book your place.
Yoga Workshop for Children with Additional Needs and their Parents with Nicola Foxe
Athy Library: Saturday 14th April 2:30 pm
Yoga as a therapeutic process can help children who have a special needs diagnosis gain additional coping skills for day to day life management. Yoga can help the child become strong in mind and in body, helping to build resilience and hone coping skills and mechanisms. Yoga may also help nurture children who have diagnosed with a particular condition, find a place in themselves where they can feel safe and at ease.This interactive workshop will show parents and children some techniques designed to self-calm and regulate which with practice can help children learn to reduce the added anxiety both parents and children may be feeling.
Visual Strategies and Self-Management – Audrey Cully, Behavioural Therapist
Athy Library: Tuesday 17th April 7 pm
This talk provides information on the use of visual strategies as a tool used to aid understanding of daily/weekly activities, the sequence of when these activities will occur, and strategies that will promote self-management of the individual’s behavior. Visual aids have been proven to be very effective with individual’s who find the language difficult to understand. The use of visual aids can be very beneficial both in classroom settings and in the home environment, often leading to an increase in positive behavior in both settings.
Life Hacks for people with ASD/Asperger’s (Teens and Adults) – Michael Ryan (Counselling and Mental Health)
Athy Library: Tuesday 24th April 7 pm
This talk will look at the challenges that face people on the Autism spectrum and Michael will suggest some tips, hints, and hacks for people to get through school and everyday life.
Supports for Children with Disabilities in their Free Preschool Year – Marie Dowdall (Kildare County Childcare Committee)
Kildare Town Library: Thursday 26th April 7 pm
Leixlip Library: Thursday 10th May 7 pm
In this session, Marie will give an overview of the new Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) that was announced in Budget 2016 to support children with disabilities who are participating in their free preschool year. The aim of the model is to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a preschool service and are actively involved in the preschool curriculum and activities. Marie will talk parents through the different types of supports available and how the parent can avail of these supports. There will also be an opportunity for questions and answers.
“Let me do it by myself!” – Using visuals and objects to support independence in daily routines – Caitríona Campbell, Speech, and Language Therapist
Leixlip Library: Thursday 26th April 7 pm
This practical workshop supports parents to use task analysis strategies to support their children and adolescents with disabilities to be more independent in daily routines. Specific materials discussed and demonstrated will include visual schedules, job lists, communication cards etc.
Motor Development and your child – Sunflower Clinic, Occupational Therapists
Athy Library: Tuesday 1st May 7 pm
This talk deals with the concept of normal motor development and some of the issues that arise when a child experiences a delay in their development. These issues can appear in such ways as a typically “clumsy” child, problems with handwriting, difficulties playing sports and a number of other physically-related difficulties.
These issues can also be described or diagnosed as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and/or Dyspraxia. The talk will explain the differences and how the equipment available to rent at your local library can help address some of the issues that can affect your child. The talk will cover the following main themes:
- Early motor milestones
- Development of motor coordination
- DCD/Dyspraxia Diagnosis
- Demonstration of appropriate equipment
This talk will be given by an experienced Occupational Therapist from The Sunflower Clinic who will be available to answer your questions on the night.
Helping primary school children with issues such as Dyspraxia, Asperger’s, ADHD / ADD prepare to transition to secondary school – Dr. Dorothy Armstrong, Occupational Therapist
Newbridge Library: Tuesday 1st May 7 pm
Athy Library: Tuesday 8th May 7 pm
Transitioning to secondary school is a major milestone in a child’s life and it’s very important to prepare our neuro-diverse children in order to make this transition as smooth as possible. Dr. Dorothy Armstrong will host an evening that is aimed at parents, teachers and those who work with this population. It will cover issues such as:
- The issues that are challenging when transitioning to secondary school
- The preparation needed to prepare the child for the transition
- Strategies that will help with organisation and secondary school readiness
- Strategies to promote inclusion once the student are there
School Refusers – Children and Teenagers with ASD/Asperger’s – Michael Ryan (Counselling and Mental Health)
Naas Library: Tuesday 15th May 7 pm
School refusal is a frequent challenge for students with ASD and this talk will cover the strategies around supporting students who refuse to attend school and explore ways to deal with the situation.
What is Dyslexia? – Amy Smyth, Information Officer from Dyslexia Association of Ireland
Athy Library: Tuesday 15th May 7 pm
In this talk, we will discover what Dyslexia is, the causes and what we can do to make life easier for someone with Dyslexia. We will also cover how to get an assessment for a child or adult with Dyslexia, common indicators of Dyslexia, Dyslexia in school and technology that may help dyslexic children in their day to day and school life. There will also be lots of time put aside for participants to ask our Information Officer any questions that they may have about Dyslexia.
Developmental Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia) in primary school – Dr. Dorothy Armstrong, Occupational Therapist
Kildare Town Library: Thursday 17th May 7 pm
Five percent of children in primary school have Developmental Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia). They can face many challenges such as problems with handwriting, challenges joining in the games and sports, and difficulties organising themselves. These problems can impact their self-esteem unless strategies are put in place. Dr. Dorothy Armstrong has a great deal of experience in this area and will help participants understand this condition and discuss methods for helping these children. She will also give recommendations as to when a student needs to move from handwriting to typing. This talk is aimed at parents, teachers and those who work with children in primary school with this condition.
Self-Acceptance for Children and Teenagers with ASD/Asperger’s/ADHD/Dyslexia (and other hidden disabilities) – Michael Ryan (Counselling and Mental Health)
Newbridge Library: Tuesday 22nd May 7 pm
“Labels are for jars not people” – but the school system requires “labels” in order to provide services. This talk will explore the ways in which Children/Teenagers can be informed about their diagnoses. We will look at ways to boost their self-esteem and confidence and allow them to come to a place of acceptance of their diagnoses – while ensuring that they do not define themselves by their “labels”.
Developmental Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia) in secondary school – Dr. Dorothy Armstrong, Occupational Therapist
Naas Library: Tuesday 22nd May 7 pm
Secondary school presents many new challenges for young people with Developmental Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia). There is a greater need to be self-directed and organised which can highlight some of the difficulties encountered by this population. There are also new physical challenges in subjects such as woodwork or Home Economics and the PE syllabus becomes more complex. The young person can become more aware of being ‘different’ from their peers so it is important to be mindful of their self-esteem. Dr. Armstrong will discuss strategies to help students with this condition. She will also explain the reasonable accommodations to the state exams (RACE).
Nutrition for Children with Special Needs with Rina Whyte, Nutritional Therapist
Leixlip Library: Thursday 24th May 7 pm
A presentation of researched based nutritional information for parents, guardians, and carers of children with specific needs. This seminar looks at food as more than ‘fuel’ and the benefits of nutrition on attention span, concentration, emotional response, and mood. The seminar will look at foods and nutrients that are particularly beneficial and those that may not be.
“Say that again?!” – Using clarification strategies – Caitríona Campbell, Speech and Language Therapist
Kildare Town Library: Thursday 24th May 7 pm
This interactive workshop is aimed at parents of teenagers with disabilities who need support to find different ways to communicate when their message is not understood. Catríona will discuss ways to support teenagers to be flexible in their communication, strategies to fall back on when the spoken message is not working, and managing frustration that can arise when communication breaks down.
“Let’s talk about Parenting” series of talks for Summer 2018
The “Let’s talk about Parenting” programme is a series of talks organised by Kildare Library Service to help support the parents in the Kildare. The programme is broken into four groups Baby/Toddler, Children, Teenagers and Parents to cater for every family type and need. These talks are spread throughout the seven main library branches within Kildare library service.
Attendance at all of the events is free of charge and open to everyone but advance booking is required. Please contact the library where the talk is happening to book your place.
See below for talks in Summer 2018
Co-Parenting Presented By Kildare Youth Services
Celbridge Library: Thursday 3rd May 7 pm
Co-parenting (often referred to as parenting when separated) is a reality for many of the parents of the young people seen for counseling in the Kildare Youth Service’s Youth counseling service. Finding strategies for coping with the challenges of agreeing on parenting styles, ways of exchanging information about the needs of and priorities of/for the young person, agreeing on shared concerns and finding ways to become solution focused are key fundamentals of embracing the task successfully. This talk, by KYS Counsellors who have supported many separated parents, will reflect the experience and valued insight of parents moving from a condemning or compensatory approach to a more balanced and realistic approach to their shared care.
Childhood Worries and Anxieties
Presented by Dr. Mary O’Kane
Maynooth Library: Thursday 3rd May 7 pm
All children worry at times, but for some children, it can be a real challenge to manage their anxieties. As parents, when your child is anxious it can be difficult to know how best to support them. However, parents play an important role in helping their child to both understand and to manage their anxiety. You don’t want to belittle the child’s feelings, but you also don’t want to amplify them. In this talk Dr. Mary O’Kane explains anxiety in children and offers parents practical advice on how to support their children during difficult times, helping them to manage their fears and gain confidence.
Exam Stress – tips for supporting your teenager at this challenging time
Presented by Deirdre O’Shea
Athy Library: Thursday 3rd May 7 pm
Maynooth Library: Thursday 24th May 7 pm
Facing exams can lead to considerable stress for teenagers and their families. There can be an increase in anxiety and worry which can affect their overall well-being, especially their confidence as well as their concentration and performance in exams. This talk will provide tips for helping those facing exams with a particular focus on:
- Strategies for coping with stress and worry in the run-up to exams
- Tips to make study time more effective
- Coping with the exam itself.
The transition from Primary to Secondary School
Presented by Dr Mary O’Kane
Athy Library: 10th May 7 pm
The move from primary to secondary school can result in both anxiety and excitement, and that is just for the parents! This is one of the most significant transitions our young teens face. The changes are social, emotional, and academic, as they move from being the ‘seniors’ in their primary school to the ‘juniors’ in this new educational environment. Most teens are more resilient than parents expect, however, preparation for this transition can definitely make it smoother. In this talk, Dr. Mary O’Kane outlines some of the challenges faced during this transition and offers very practical advice on how we can support students on this new educational journey.
The Affordable Childcare Subsidy and other childcare support
Presented by Emily Moore, Kildare County Childcare Committee
Kildare Library: Thursday 10th May 7 pm
Leixlip Library: Tuesday 15th May 7 pm
Join Kildare County Childcare Committee for a talk on the universal Affordable Childcare Scheme (for children from 6 months to 3 years) and other targeted government childcare schemes. If you have children
and would like to know more or are a prospective parent please come along. If you believe you may be entitled to childcare support, for example, if you hold a medical card or are taking part in a Solas/ETB training course and would like to know more Emily can answer your questions.
Emily will also discuss the ECCE preschool scheme, which has been extended in the budget. The AIM programme will also be explained, this allows children with disabilities or who need support in their preschool years to access the ECCE scheme. If you have questions about any of the above Emily will be available afterward to answer your questions. Professionals who work with parents and have questions about these schemes/ would like to understand them further are also welcome to attend. www.kccc.ie
Finding Balance: Self Care Workshop for Parents
Presented by Sarah Murphy
Athy Library: 17th May 10:30 am-12.00 pm
Parenting is a demanding job which often leaves parents burnt out, guilt-ridden or feeling like a failure. Discover how placing importance on your own needs leads to benefits in all areas of your life. Join life coach Sarah Murphy for this important workshop which introduces you to effective self-care practices which nourish the mind, body, and soul, increase emotional well-being, alleviate anxiety and lead to more satisfying personal relationships. Learn how to implement self-care practices and follow through by designing your own self-care plan. This workshop features meditation, journaling, experiential exercises and more.
How families survive the teenage years
Presented by Michael Ryan
Kildare Library: Thursday 31st May 7 pm
A look at the realities facing parents when their children reach their teenage years. Michael will talk about what to expect, what are the challenges for everyone at this stage and give practical tips on how to survive the change in family dynamics.
There will be plenty of time for questions.
The importance of play to child development and their right to play
Presented by Dr. Carol Barron
Leixlip Library: Thursday 31st May 7 pm
Carol will speak about the importance of play to child development and children and young people’s right to play enshrined in UNCRC. Carol will also speak about her work with Kildare County Council and ‘Play concerns’ as viewed by Kildare children and young people.
Young People and Substance Misuse
Presented by Padraig O’Donovan
Athy Library: Thursday 7th June 7-9pm
In this 2 hour workshop, Parents will gain an insight into what substances are out there for young people including cannabis. Padraig will focus on some practical skills that parents can do to reduce the possibility of their young people engaging in substance misuse. Parents will also consider some signs and symptoms of substance misuse along with where to access support and further information.
Family Finance Advice with MABS
Presented by MABS
Athy Library: Thursday 14th June 7 pm
These talks will give an overview of the service provided by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and for a family, group would look a basic budget showing how to budget for weekly monthly yearly bills and offer some advice tips around the area of debt management.
For up to date details of future talks and events relating to the TTT Project please email us and ask to join our mailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org
Attendance at all of the events is free of charge and open to everyone but advance booking is required. Please contact the library where the talk is happening to book your place.
Sign up for our email service through your local library to receive monthly mailing information on these and all library events.
Athy Library : Tel 059 8631144 Email email@example.com
Celbridge Library : Tel 01 6272207 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kildare Town Library: Tel 045 530235 Email: email@example.com
Leixlip Library: Tel: 01 6060050 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maynooth Library : Tel 01 6285530 Email: email@example.com
Naas Library: Tel 045 879111 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Newbridge Library: Tel 045 448353 Email: email@example.com
Smart homes may make life easier and more convenient. Who wouldn’t love being able to control lighting, entertainment and temperature from the comfort of their own sofa?
Today, our homes are getting smarter and more efficient, accelerated by smartphones and tablets interacting with connected devices. From basic security monitoring to smart appliances, lighting, window coverings, entertainment systems and more. Mainstream IT companies including Apple, Google and Philips are playing a key role in bringing smart home technologies to the masses, at an affordable cost.
We’ve tried to summarise the main smart home options here, beginning with mainstream options and then providing details of more specialist solutions.
Mainstream Smart Home Solutions
A Virtual assistant is a computer program that can perform tasks or services for an individual which are accessed by online chat. These services are developing and now provide support for home automation which enables control of home appliances by voice control.
Google Home speakers enable users to speak and interact with services through Google’s intelligent personal assistant called Google Assistant. A large number of services, both in-house and third-party, are integrated, allowing users to listen to music, control playback of videos or photos, or receive news updates entirely by voice. Google Home devices also have integrated support for home automation.
The Amazon Alexa is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real-time information, such as news. Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system.
Apple home kit
HomeKit enables users to set up their iPhone or other Apple device to control smart-home appliances. Users can enable automatic actions in the house through a simple voice dictation to Siri or through apps.
What can be controlled
As mentioned typical devices include entertainment (tv, music system), security, lighting and heating controls.
Other items include
A door opener can be fitted to a standard door so that it can be automatically controlled by the user. Control of the door can be accessed by an alternative remote control, a switch, an infrared signal or controlled via a door intercom unit. Door openers are available for both internal and external doors. It is advisable that door openers should be battery backed-up so that the door can be opened in an emergency situation. Settings such as: how fast the door shuts, closing force, and opening times are adjustable on the door opener.
If a person has difficultly opening and closing windows within their home, window openers can be fitted to the windows. Control of the window can then be made from a well-positioned switch panel for the user to access or can be controlled by a remote transmitter. Windows can be opened, closed or stopped in any position. In the closed position window openers are as secure as standard window locks. They also feature quick release catches for use in the event of emergency evacuation.
When inserting plugs is difficult for a person, appliances modules can be fitted into a standard mains socket. This will enable sockets to be remotely switched on and off. For example appliances such as TVs, electric blankets, lamps etc., can be powered on or off. Appliance modules can be controlled by remote radio control transmitter or by smart home app on tablet.
Curtain and Blind opener
Curtain and Blinds can also be easily controlled remotely. Motor controlled curtain rails and blind poles are mainstream products. Similar to window openers they can be opened, closed or stopped in any position. Control of the motors can be via a mounted switch panel or via a remote transmitter.
Other more mainstream items include door intercoms. These allow remote communication with a door station positioned at an external door. The unlocking and opening of the doors is also possible. Door intercoms are available where all functions can be operated by infrared control or by large external switches connected to the unit. A door indicator may also be able to indicate to the user whether the door is open or closed.
DuoCom is a door-entry system
For controlling the home telephone a specialist telephone is required. Remote controlled, loud speaking telephones are available. These telephones allow a user to remotely answered or hand up a call without using the handset. The caller’s voice can be heard through the loudspeaker. Other features that may be available in these phones are basic communication aid functions. Recordable phrases can be stored on the phone and allow someone with partial or no voice to communicate crucial messages over the telephone. Also the telephone may utilise caller I.D. services and speak the name of the person calling.
The transmitter used by the individual is probably the most important aspect of the smart homes installation.
SeKi Grande remote is the big sister of smaller SeKi Medium and features an additional numeric keypad for choosing channels directly. All buttons of SeKi Grande remote control can be programmed twice. This means that, when using both programming levels, it is possible to replace two different remote controls.
TwoXTen is a compact InfraRed remote control with auditory feedback using recorded speech.
It has two jack sockets for single switch and two switch scanning. Learnable InfraRed transmitter that can record up to 20 signals and macros from other remote controls.
IR-transmitter with scanning, built in IR-signals and able to learn other IR-signals. The Pico16 has 18 keys. 16 keys with 2 levels, 1 level independent key for door and 1 key for page-select.
The Ablenet Relax is an accessible infrared (IR) learning remote that provides simplified control of almost any IR device. With a light touch or with the use of one switch, an individual can control up to eight functions on their favorite IR device.
The devices above shows a sample of dedicated transmitters. They are all transmitters that can learn infrared signals from other remotes. This is accomplished by placing the original remote beside the learnable transmitter and coping the required infrared signals into a selected position on the learnable transmitter.
These transmitters have various special features that extend the access range for a diverse range of users. Features of some of these transmitters may include control of the device using a single switch, joystick, or via speech command and may also include auditory feedback.
Also the size, screen quality, tactile buttons, ease of use, battery life, and the number of stored infrared signals will vary.
Another aspect that needs to consider is whether the transmitter should be a standalone device or should it be ideally integrated into other assistive technology items that the user has. Other items that a user may use is a power wheelchair, communication device, computer, tablet or mobile phone. All these other devices have the capability to integrate environmental controls within the device.
As with all assistive technology devices, it must fit the individual’s needs and their preferences.
Smartboxat Servus tablet
Evoassist RSL Steeper
This pictures above a sample of the various mobile device with smart home apps installed. These apps provide many of the same features of the previous dedicated controllers. I.e. they can learn the infrared signals from remotes and can be customise around the user’s needs. They have interfaces that enable switch access to the tablet. This is a growing area as there is an increasing number of suppliers providing similar solutions.
It may be easy to find a smart home supplier who can provide a service of integrating the latest smart technology into your home. However, their focus may be more on only entertainment, security, lighting and heating control. Although these are typical components of most smart homes, they may not fulfill all the needs of an individual with sensory, mobility or dexterity issues. Luckily, there are installers/suppliers (details below) in Ireland who supply and install smart homes equipment and take into account all the user’s needs. So if it’s gaining access into a room via a door opener or opening a hard-to-reach window via a window opener, then this can also be integrated as part of the smart home control.
Although suppliers can provide valuable input, for someone with sensory or mobility issues then getting advice and guidance on smart home equipment is essential to ensure all the needs are met for the user. This help can typically be provided by an experienced Occupational Therapist or Assistive Technology specialist who will look at the devices that the user needs to control and the appropriate user interface to control the home devices.
Manufactures and suppliers
A sample of supplier based in the UK an Ireland.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Love it or hate it, the game of Minecraft has captured the imagination of over 100 million young, and not so young people. It is available on multiple platforms; mobile device (Pocket Edition), Raspberry Pi, Computer, Xbox or PlayStation and it looks and feels pretty much the same on all. For those of us old enough to remember, the blocky graphics will hold some level of nostalgia for the bygone 8 Bit days when mere blobs of colour and our imagination were enough to render Ghosts and Goblins vividly. This is almost certainly lost on the main cohort of Minecraft players however who would most probably be bored silly with the 2 dimensional repetitive and predictable video games of the 80’s and early 90’s. The reason Minecraft is such a success is that it has blended its retro styling with modern gameplay and a (mind bogglingly massive) open world where no two visits are the same and there is room for self-expression and creativity. This latter quality has lead it to become the first video game to be embraced by mainstream education, being used as a tool for teaching everything from history to health or empathy to economics. It is however the former quality, the modern gameplay, that we are here to talk about. Unlike the afore mentioned Ghosts and Goblins, Minecraft is played in a 3 dimensional world using either the first person perspective (you see through the characters eyes) or third person perspective (like a camera is hovering above and slightly behind the character). While undoubtedly offering a more immersive and realistic experience, this means controlling the character and playing the game is also much more complex and requires a high level of dexterity in both hands to be successful. For people without the required level of dexterity this means that not only is there a risk of social exclusion, being unable to participate in an activity so popular among their peers, but also the possibility of being excluded within an educational context.
Fortunately UK based charity Special Effect have recognised this need and are in the process doing something about it. Special Effect are a charity dedicated to enabling those with access difficulties play video games through custom access solutions. Since 2007 their interdisciplinary team of clinical and technical professionals (and of course gamers) have been responsible for a wide range of bespoke solutions based on individuals’ unique abilities and requirements. Take a look at this page for some more information on the work they do and to see what a life enhancing service they provide. The problem with this approach of course is reach, which is why their upcoming work on Minecraft is so exciting. Based on the Open Source eyegaze AAC/Computer Access solution Optikey by developer Julius Sweetland, Special Effect are in the final stages of developing an on-screen Minecraft keyboard that will work with low cost eye trackers like the Tobii Eye X and the Tracker 4C (€109 and €159 respectively).
Currently being called ‘Minekey’ this solution will allow Minecraft to be played using a pointing device like a mouse or joystick or even totally hands free using an eyegaze device or headmouse. The availability of this application will ensure that Minecraft it now accessible to many of those who have been previously excluded. Special Effect were kind enough to let us trial a beta version of the software and although I’m no Minecraft expert it seemed to work great. The finished software will offer a choice of onscreen controls, one with smaller buttons and more functionality for expert eyegaze users (pictured above) and a more simplified version with larger targets. Bill Donegan, Projects Manager with Special Effect told us they hope to have it completed and available to download for free by the end of the year. I’m sure this news that will excite many people out there who had written off Minecraft as something just not possible for them. Keep an eye on Special Effect or ATandMe for updates on its release.
Before getting into the details of this new device I first want to highlight that although this eye tracker can be used as a computer access solution for someone with a disability (it already works with Optikey and Project IRIS), it is not being marketed as such. What this means in practice is that it may not provide the reliability that their much costlier Assistive Technology (AT) eye trackers such as the Tobii PC Eye Mini do. So if eye tracking is your only means of communication or computer access and you have the funds I would recommend spending that extra money. That said, many people don’t have the funds or perhaps they have other more robust means of computer access and just want to use eye tracking for specific tasks like creating music or gaming. For those people the Tracker 4 C is really good news as it packs a lot into the €159 price tag and overcomes many of the weaknesses of its predecessor the Tobii Eye X. The big improvement over the Tobii Eye X is the inclusion of the EyeChip. The EyeChip which was previously only included in the much more expensive range of Tobii AT eye trackers takes care of most of the data processing before sending it on to the computer. The result of this is much less data is being passed to the computer from the eyetracker (100KB/S compared to 20MB/S) and a much lower CPU (Central Processing Unit) load (1% compared to 10%). This allows it to work over an older USB 2 connection and means most (even budget) computers should have no problem running this device (unlike the Eye X which required a high end PC).
All this must have come as some compromise in performance right? Wrong. The Tracker 4C actually beats the Eye X in almost every category. Frequency has risen from 70Hz to 90Hz, slightly longer operating distance is possible .95m, and the max screen size has increased by 3” to 30”. This last stat could be the deciding factor that convinces Tobii PC Eye Mini users to buy the Tracker 4 C as a secondary device as the Mini only works with a max screen size of 19”. The Tracker 4 C also offers head tracking but as I haven’t tested the device I’m unsure of how this works or of it is something that could be utilised as AT. Watch this space, the Tracker 4 C is on our shopping list and I’ll post an update as soon as we get to test whether it’s as impressive in real life as it seems on paper.
The table below compares specs for all Tobii’s current range of consumer eye trackers. In some areas where information was not available I have added a question mark and if appropriate a speculation. I am open to correction.
|Eye Tracker Models||Tobii Eye Tracker 4C||Tobii EyeX*||Tobii PC Eye Explore||Tobii PC Eye Mini|
|Size||17 x 15 x 335 mm
(0.66 x 0.6 x 13.1 in)
|20 x 15 x 318 mm
(0.8 x 0.6 x 12.5 in)
|20 x 15 x 318 mm
(0.8 x 0.6 x 12.5 in)
|170 mm × 18 mm × 13 mm
6.69“ × 0.71“ × 0.51“
|Weight||91 grams||91 grams||69 grams||59 grams|
|Max Screen Size||27 inches with 16:9 Aspect Ratio
30 inches with 21:9 Aspect Ratio
|27 inches||27 inches||19 Inches|
|Operating Distance||20 – 37″ / 50 – 95 cm||20 – 35″ / 50 – 90 cm||18-32 “/ 45-80 cm||45 cm – 80 cm 18” – 32″|
|Track Box Dimensions||16 x 12″ / 40 x 30 cm at 29.5″ / 75 cm||16 x 12″ / 40 x 30 cm at 29.5″ / 75 cm||19 x 15” / 48 x 39cm||>35 cm × 30 cm ellipse
>13.4” × 11.8”
|Connectivity||USB 2.0 (integrated cord, USB 2.0 BC 1.2)||USB 3.0 (separate cord)||USB 3.0||USB 2.0|
|USB Cable Length||80 cm||180 cm||180 cm||(short, extension needed in some situations)|
|Head Tracking||Yes (not powered by EyeChip)||No||No||No|
|OS Compatibility||Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 (64-bit only)||Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 (64-bit only)||Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 (64-bit only)||Windows 7 Windows 8.1 Windows 10|
|CPU Load||1%*||10%||10%||? (unconfirmed but similar to Tracker 4 C)|
|Power Consumption||1.5 Watt||4.5 Watt||? (unconfirmed but suspect same as Eye X)||1.5 Watt|
|USB Data Transfer Rate||100KB/s||20MB/s||? (unconfirmed but suspect same as Eye X)||? (unconfirmed but similar to Tracker 4 C)|
|Frequency||90 Hz||70 Hz||55 Hz||60Hz|
|Illuminators||Near Infrared (NIR 850nm) Only||Backlight Assisted Near Infrared
(NIR 850nm + red light (650nm))
|? (unconfirmed but suspect same as Eye X)||?|
|Tracking Population||97%||95%||? (unconfirmed but suspect same as Eye X)||?|
|Additional Software||Tobii Eye Tracking Core Software||Tobii Eye Tracking Core Software||Gaze Point (mouse emulation software)||Windows Control|
* The specs given here are taken from those listed on https://help.tobii.com/hc/en-us/articles/212814329-What-s-the-difference-between-Tobii-Eye-Tracker-4C-and-Tobii-EyeX- accessed 08/03/2017. Because the weight listed is 91 grams I suspect these specs are for the first generation Tobii Eye X (as it weighs 91 grams, the more recent Eye X weighs 69 Grams). The current Eye X specs are probably similar to the PC Eye Explore but I cannot confirm this.
Last Friday (February 17th) New Scientist published an article about a new app in development at Microsoft called GazeSpeak. Due to be released over the coming months on iOS, GazeSpeak aims at facilitating communication between a person with MND (known as ALS in the US, I will use both terms interchangeably) and another individual, perhaps their partner, carer or friend. Developed by Microsoft intern, Xiaoyi Zhang, GazeSpeak differs from traditional approaches in a number of ways. Before getting into the details however it’s worth looking at the background, GazeSpeaker didn’t come from nowhere, it’s actually one of the products of some heavyweight research into Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) that has been taking place at Microsoft over the last few years. Since 2013, inspired by football legend and ALS sufferer Steve Gleason (read more here) Microsoft researchers and developers have put the weight of their considerable collective intellect to bear on the subject of increasing the ease and efficiency of communication for people with MND.
Last year Microsoft Research published a paper called ”
AACrobat: Using Mobile Devices to Lower Communication Barriers and Provide Autonomy with Gaze-Based AAC” (abstract and pdf download at previous link) which proposed a companion app to allow an AAC user’s communication partner assist (in an non-intrusive way) in the communication process. Take a look at the video below for a more detailed explanation.
This is an entirely new approach to increasing the efficiency of AAC and one that I suggest, could only have come from a large mainstream tech organisation who have over thirty years experience facilitating communication and collaboration.
Another Microsoft research paper published last year (with some of the same authors at the previous paper) called “Exploring the Design Space of AAC Awareness Displays” looks at importance of a communication partners “awareness of the subtle, social, and contextual cues that are necessary for people to naturally communicate in person”. There research focused on creating a display that would allow the person with ALS express things like humor, frustration, affection etc, emotions difficult to express with text alone. Yes they proposed the use of Emoji, which are a proven and effective way a similar difficulty is overcome in remote or non face to face interactions however they went much further and also looked at solutions like Avatars, Skins and even coloured LED arrays. This, like the other one above, is an academic paper and as such not an easy read but the ideas and solutions being proposed by these researchers are practical and will hopefully be filtering through to end users of future AAC solutions.
That brings us back to GazeSpeak, the first fruits of the Microsoft/Steve Gleason partnership to reach the general public. Like the AACrobat solution outlined above GazeSpeak gives the communication partner a tool rather than focusing on tech for the person with MND. As the image below illustrates the communication partner would have GazeSpeak installed on their phone and with the app running they would hold their device up to the person with MND as if they were photographing them. They suggest a sticker with four grids of letters is placed on the back of the smart phone facing the speaker. The app then tracks the persons eyes: up, down, left or right, each direction means the letter they are selecting is contained in the grid in that direction (see photo below).
Similar to how the old T9 predictive text worked, GazeSpeak selects the appropriate letter from each group and predicts the word based on the most common English words. So the app is using AI in the form of machine vision to track the eyes and also to make the word prediction. In the New Scientist article they mention that the user would be able to add their own commonly used words and people/place names which one assumes would prioritize them within the prediction list. In the future perhaps some capacity for learning could be added to further increase efficiency. After using this system for a while the speaker may not even need to see the sticker with letters, they could write words from muscle memory. At this stage a simple QR code leading to the app download would allow them to communicate with complete strangers using just their eyes and no personal technology.
UPDATE (August 2018): GazeSpeak has been released for iOS and is now called SwipeSpeak. Download here. For more information on how it works or to participate in further development have a look at their GitHub page here.
Sharon’s Shortcuts is a new educational resource for people who primarily use keyboard shortcuts to access a computer. The site contains different sections covering common tasks carried out using a PC. All the keyboard shortcuts mentioned in this site are standard, Windows shortcuts that anyone can use.
While it’s easy to find plenty of tutorials and step by step instructions for using a PC that are mouse-based, this unique website gives step by step instructions on using a PC without the mouse making it a useful resource for screen reader users.
Sharon has over 10 years experience supporting people with a vision impairment and also provides One to One Tutoring Sessions for specific IT skills, getting to grips with work based systems, or a program of study towards a qualification like ECDL.
In this blogpost Sharon discusses her website http://sharons-shortcuts.ie/ and her tutoring services.
How refreshing to see that Digital Inclusion gets the nod in this year’s UK MBE awards, with AbilityNet’s Robin Christopherson receiving well-deserved recognition for his longstanding contribution to the world of accessibility, and digital accessibility in particular.
Here he is, speaking at the Tech4Good Awards in July 2016: living and breathing digital inclusion in his daily life: