Global Accessibility Awareness Day – Apple Accessibility – Designed for everyone Videos

Today May 18th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day and to mark the occasion Apple have produced a series of 7 videos (also available with audio description) highlighting how their products are being used in innovative ways by people with disabilities. All the videos are available in a playlist here and I guarantee you, if you haven’t seen them and you are interested in accessibility and AT, it’ll be the best 15 minutes you have spent today! Okay the cynical among you will point out this is self promotion by Apple, a marketing exercise. Certainly on one level of course it is, they are a company and like any company their very existence depends on generating profit for their shareholders. These videos promote more than Apple however, they promote independence, creativity and inclusion through technology. Viewed in this light these videos will illustrate to people with disabilities how far technology has moved on in recent years and make them aware of the potential benefits to their own lives. Hopefully the knock on effect of this increased awareness will be increased demand. Demand these technologies people, it’s your right!

As far as a favorite video from this series goes, everyone will have their own. In terms of the technology on show, to me Todd “The Quadfather” below was possibly the most interesting.

This video showcases Apple’s HomeKit range of associated products and how they can be integrated with Siri.

My overall favorite video however is Patrick, musician, DJ and cooking enthusiast. Patrick’s video is an ode to independence and creativity. The technologies he illustrates are Logic Pro (Digital Audio Workstation software) with VoiceOver (Apple’s inbuilt screen-reader) and the object recognizer app TapTapSee which although has been around for several years now, is still an amazing use of technology. It’s Patrick’s personality that makes the video though, this guy is going places, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his own prime time TV show this time next year.

Mounting Assistive Technology Documentation (MAT-DOC)

Mount'n Mover, wheelchair mounting system holding a camera

To use technology effectively it needs to be at an optimal position for our use. Whether it’s a computer display, tablet computer, or even the chair we sit on, the position of items we use is important for ease of use and comfort. For someone with a physical disability this is even more important as their ability to reach, grasp, hold or interact with physical objects may be limited. Mounting can improve the overall view and the ability to manipulate the controls of the device.

There is now a range of mounting solutions available from mounting arms to modular mounting kits.

We need to consider a range of things when mounting assistive technology, to ensure technology can be used effectively in a range of environments and contexts to meet the lifestyle needs of the user.

Some very useful documentation is now available. It is designed for service providers and others who are involved with attaching one piece of assistive technology, such as a communication device to another, such as a wheelchair. It’s designed to help ensure all relevant aspects have been considered to ensure the best solution is reached.

This best practice guidelines documentation is available for general use at http://mat-doc.org/

MAT-doc also includes Best Practice Guidelines which have been developed by a team of people who are all actively involved with mounting assistive technology.

These guidelines are intended to promote and facilitate independence and participation and not as a mechanism to find barriers to the provision of equipment.

It is based on the Mounting Assistive Technology Documentation (MAT-DOC)

The Big Life Fix

Just when we thought 2016 couldn’t get any better (in an AT sense) BBC make a prime time TV show with a huge focus on the design and construction of bespoke AT solutions. Although aired in December on BBC due to regional restrictions it’s not available to many on this side of the Irish Sea on iPlayer so you may not have had the chance to see full episodes yet. The good news is full episodes are beginning to make their way onto YouTube and are well worth a look. The general theme of the Big Life Fix would be how technology has the power to improve lives. Although not just about what we call assistive technology, it is more broad in scope covering many different types of technology challenge with the goal of democratising and demystifying solutions. AT does play a big part in many of the challenges however.

The first episode (a clip of which I’ve embedded below) introduces us to James, a young photographer who is having difficulty operating his SLR camera. The solution created for James features all the exciting technology and techniques being utilised every day by Makers around the world: Arduino microprocessor, 3D printing, AppInventor as well as some good old fashioned hardware hacking. The iterative nature of the design process is well illustrated with James critically evaluating the initial prototype and providing insights which significantly change the direction of the design.The other AT related challenge in this first episode features a graphic designer called Emma who due to tremors which are a symptom of her Parkinson’s, is unable to draw or sign her name. After a number of prototypes and lots of research a very clever solution is arrived at which seems to be extremely effective, leading to a rather emotional scene (have the hankies ready).

The Big Life Fix beautifully portrays both the potential of AT to improve the quality of life as well as the personal satisfaction a maker might get from participating in a successful solution. I can see this show sowing the seeds for a strong and equitable future for assistive technology.

Finally, the icing on the cake is that all the solutions featured on the show are Open Source with all the source code, design files and build notes that were used to print, shape and operate the solutions publicly available on GitHub. Nice work BBC. Take a look at the clip below (UPDATE: Full Episodes now on YouTube. Not sure how long they will stay there though).

2016 – Technology Trends and Assistive Technology (AT) Highlights

As we approach the end of 2016 it’s an appropriate time to look back and take stock of the year from an AT perspective. A lot happened in 2016, not all good. Socially, humanity seems to have regressed over the past year. Maybe this short term, inward looking protectionist sentiment has been brewing longer but 2016 brought the opportunity to express politically, you know the rest. While society steps and looks back technology continues to leap and bound forward and 2016 has seen massive progress in many areas but particularly areas associated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Smart Homes. This is the first in a series of posts examining some technology trends of 2016 and a look at how they affect the field of Assistive Technology. The links will become active as the posts are added. If I’m missing something please add it to the comments section.

Dawn of the Personal Digital Assistants

Game Accessibility

Inbuilt Accessibility – AT in mainstream technology 

Software of the Year – The Grid 3

Open Source AT Hardware and Software

The Big Life Fix

So although 2016 is unlikely to be looked on kindly by future historians… you know why; it has been a great year for Assistive Technology, perhaps one of promise rather than realisation however. One major technology trend of 2016 missing from this series posts is Virtual (or Augmented) Reality. While VR was everywhere this year with products coming from Sony, Samsung, Oculus and Microsoft its usefulness beyond gaming is only beginning to be explored (particularly within Education).

So what are the goals for next year? Well harnessing some of these innovations in a way where they can be made accessible and usable by people with disabilities at an affordable price. If in 2017 we can start putting some of this tech into the hands of those who stand to benefit most from its use, then next year will be even better.

Accessible Apps, Games and Toys

range of children's toys

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

Available here https://goo.gl/QpcD1z

Difficult to read traditional print books?

Shelf with many books

Bookshare and LibriVox are two projects that have the potential to open up the world of reading for people who find it difficult to read traditional print books. This may be due to a visual impairment, physical disability or severe learning disability.
Bookshare offers a large collection of accessible titles, currently more than 400,000. With Bookshare you can listen to books with high quality text-to-speech voices, hear and see highlighted words on screen, read with digital braille or enlarged fonts. There is a charge for individuals of $50 annually + $25 setup.
LibriVox is another project. Their objective is to make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet. Librivox is a non-commercial, non-profit and ad-free project and welcomes all volunteers from across the globe, in all languages.
Both are requesting volunteers to help with their projects. All you need is a computer, a microphone, some free recording software, and your own voice. They accept all volunteers in all languages, with all kinds of accents. Be inspired, get involved!

Accessible Gaming & Playing Agario with your Eyes

We in Enable Ireland Assistive Technology Training Service have long recognised the importance of gaming to many young and not so young assistive technology users. It’s a difficult area for a number of reasons. Firstly games (and we are talking about video games here) are designed to be challenging, if they are too easy they’re not fun, however if too difficult the player will also lose interest. Successful games manage to get the balance just right. Of course when it comes to physical dexterity as well as other skills required for gaming (strategic, special awareness, timing) this often involves game designers taking a one size fits all approach which frequently doesn’t include people with physical, sensory or cognitive difficulties. There are two methods of getting around this which when taken together ensure a game can be accessed and enjoyed by a much broader range of people; difficulty levels (not a new concept) and accessibility features (sometimes called assists). Difficulty levels are self-explanatory and have been a feature of good games for decades. Accessibility features might include the ability to remap buttons (useful for one handed gamers), automate certain controls, subtitles, high contrast and magnification.

Another challenge faced when creating an alternative access solution to allow someone successfully play a video game is that you need to have a pretty good understanding of the activity, how to play the game. This is where we often have difficulty and I’d imaging other non-specialist services (general AT services rather than game accessibility specialist services like SpecialEffect or OneSwitch.org.uk  ) also run into problems. We simply do not have the time required to familiarise ourselves with the games or keep up to date with new releases (which would allow us better match a person with an appropriate game for their range of ability). We try and compensate for this by enlisting the help of volunteers (often from Enable Irelands IT department with whom we share office space), interns and transition year students. It’s often the younger transition year students who bring us some of the best suggestions and last week was no exception. After we demonstrated some eyegaze technology to Patrick, a transition year student visiting from Ardscoil Ris, Dublin 9, he suggested we take a look at a browser based game called agar.io. I implore you, do not to click that link if you have work to get done today. This game is equal parts addictive and infuriating but in terms of playability and simplicity it’s also very accessible with simple controls and a clear objective. The idea is that using your mouse you control a little (at first) coloured circular blob, think of it as a cell and the aim of the game it to eat other little coloured cells and grow. The fun part is that other players from every corner of the globe are also controlling cells and growing, if they are bigger than you they move a little slower but can eat you! Apart from the mouse there are two other buttons, the spacebar allows you to split your cell (can be used as an aggressive or defensive strategy) and the “W” key allows you to shed some weight. We set up the game to be played with a Tobii EyeX  (€119) and IRIS software (€99). IRIS allows you to emulate the mouse action with your eyes and set up two onscreen buttons (called interactors) that can also be activated using your gaze, the video below should make this clearer.

Big thanks to Patrick for suggesting we take a look at Agrio and helping us set it up for eyegaze control. I’ll leave the final words to him. “I found playing Agrio with gaze software really fun. I think you have just as much control with your eyes as with your mouse. If an interactor was placed in the corner of the screen to perform the function of the spacebar (splits the cell in half) it would be beneficial. I believe it would be a very entertaining game for people who can only control their eyes, not their arms.”

Accessible Music Technology and Practice Seminar

accessible music technology photo montage

On February 23rd Enable Ireland Assistive Technology Service and the Institute of Art Design and Technology (IADT) Dun Laoghaire will be holding an Accessible Music Technology and Practice Seminar. This is a rare opportunity for anybody interested in music and disability to hear a highly experienced range of speakers from Ireland, the UK and Norway who are involved in the design and development of accessible musical instruments/interfaces, the delivery of accessible musical education or in supporting musicians and performers with disabilities. Places are limited so advanced booking is essential.

For more details see electroAT.com/amtp where you will find the booking form and regular updates as the day approaches.

Who might be interested in attending?

  • Musicians or aspiring musicians with a disability.
  • Musicians or music therapists who work with people with disabilities.
  • Music teachers or community musicians interested in providing more inclusive classes and environments.
  • Therapists or anybody who works with or supports people with disabilities that would like to introduce music based activities.
  • Product or software designers interested in creating alternative musical instruments and interfaces.

Contributors

As you will see from the range of experience below this promises to be a very interesting group representing all areas from the design and development of accessible hardware and software to practice based experience of working with musicians with disabilities.

Dr Tim Anderson (inclusivemusic.org.uk ) – has been involved with developing technology and software for enabling people with disabilities to make music for the last 25 years. Over that time he has been Research and Development (R&D) manager and later Technology manager with Drake Music and more recently an independent consultant to the software developers as well as to schools, colleges, councils and individuals. Tim developed, sells and supports the E-Scape software system, that allows people to compose and play music unaided, whatever their physical ability or musical knowledge.

Elin SkogdalSKUG Centre, Norway. The SKUG Centre provides education and support for musicians with disabilities. They also offer training, education, demonstrations, and advice for teachers and supporters and participate in the development of specialist hardware and software for access to music making.

Dr Brendan McCloskey (Ulster University, School of Creative Arts and Technologies) is a musician and designer working closely with performers with disabilities. Having worked extensively a researcher and practitioner in the field of inclusive community music with Ulster University, Drake Music N. Ireland, Drake Music UK, Share Music Sweden and Stravaganza Production Company across the past 15 years, he has designed an innovative digital instrument for musicians with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. The instrument, called inGrid, was shortlisted for the Prix Ars Electronica one-handed musical instrument competition in November 2013, and selected as a finalist for the Margaret Guthman Prize run by Georgia Tech in Atlanta, January 2014. He will discuss the key innovations underpinning inGrid, and how they will be developed in the immediate future.

Brian Dillon (Unique Perspectives) designer and manufacturer of assistive technology solutions who along with Ruud van der Wel (MyBreathMyMusic) has developed accessible music technologies such as the Quintet and the Magic Flute. The Quintet is an exciting device that enables people with disabilities to play music using switches. Easy to use and set-up it is suitable for teachers, therapists, parents and others who want to use music in an activity with children or adults. It can be used with a group of people or by a single individual. The Magic Flute is an electronic musical instrument that enables people whose only reliable movement is the head and breath to play music. The flute is similar to a harmonica or slide whistle in that it requires no fingers to play and both note and expression can be controlled using the mouth.

Grainne McHale and Graham McCarthy from SoundOUT , a group based in Cork who provides inclusive music-making and performance opportunities for young people with and without disabilities in Ireland.

Jason Noone – music therapist active in clinical work, music therapy training/supervision and research. He is a member of the Music and Health Research Group at the University of Limerick. His clinical expertise are mainly in the area of developmental disability and research interests include sensory integration and music therapy, music technology for access and participation and participatory action research.

Koichi Samuels – PhD candidate based at the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC), Queen’s University Belfast. He is researching inclusive music practices and interfaces with Drake Music Northern Ireland, a charity that aims to enable musicians with physical disabilities and learning difficulties to compose and perform their own music through music technology.  Research interests include: inclusive music, DMIs, DIY/maker culture, critical design, HCI.

 

 

 

Game Accessibility Guidelines

ggame accessible guidelines

Game Accessibility Guidelines is a web resource created to help developers create games which are more inclusive of disabled gamers. Although launched back in 2012 from the collaboration of a group of game developers, accessibility specialists and academics it has recently been awarded for promoting accessibility for persons with disabilities. The web resources invites constant feedback from gamers and developers in order to keep the guidelines inclusive and up-to-date.

An example of how to make games more inclusive is providing gamers with options such as a choice of difficulty level or being able to configure which button does what on your controller or providing support for assistive technologies such as switches and screen-readers.

Making games more inclusive is important. It can be a great contributor to the quality of life for a person with a disability as well as making economic sense within a growing industry.

http://gameaccessibilityguidelines.com/

Some useful resources around game accessibility can be found at

AbleGamers Foundation

Games Accessibility

OneSwitch.org

SpecialEffect

Accessible Photography

Photography is not only a great hobby it is a useful tool for recording or documenting and can also be an outlet for creative expression. From that last perspective photography sits firmly between Art and Technology. It allows the practitioner, the photographer to capture how they view the world in which they live. On the surface photography is objective, traditionally associated with evidence and realism but on closer inspection it can be completely subjective and expressive. The photographer may focus on the seemingly unimportant details that go unnoticed by others or maybe catch fleeting moments that would have otherwise been lost in time; either way where they choose to point the lens and when they choose to release the shutter will be unique to them. In this way photography is probably the most effective nonverbal means by which someone can communicate and tell others about themselves, their lives and how they see the world around them.

Click here to go straight to the Sony DSC QX10 solution

Switch Accessible Cameras

Historically the range of cameras available to those with limited upper body mobility or dexterity difficulties has been small to non-existent with the notable exception of the Switch Adapted Digital Camera supplied by QED or RJ Cooper. Both of these solutions are adapted mainstream digital cameras that allowed the shutter to be released by activating a standard switch. Although limited in a photographic sense (no zoom or settings control, just shutter release) they were both fantastic products because they opened up the world of photography to a whole section of the community for the first time in its history. These options are still available from suppliers like Inclusive Technology or Liberator and although the technology has moved on and there are what many would consider much better options (in terms of greater control, see below) these still have a place for a couple of reasons. The main advantage would be its simplicity, in terms of set up but also in terms of the cognitive load required to operate. Once connected and turned on the user just needs to activate the switch and it takes a photo. Another advantage is that the camera can be used as a normal “point and shoot” digital camera because the adaptation it a self-contained switch connection unit. That said however many will find the price prohibitively expensive (costing up to €350 for what it is a budget camera worth about €100 and a switch interface). If the funds are not available and you are any way handy (or know someone who is) then you should look into a DIY approach. Most digital cameras will have a remote shutter release, either wired or wireless that can be bought as an accessory and it is often a relatively simple job to adapt these so that they are switch accessible (good instructable on switch adapting).

Remote Viewfinder – iOS Switch Control and Android Joystick Access

Technology is evolving fast in every area but probably nowhere as fast as it is in consumer electronics. It’s an arms race between the big brand names with each company vying to be first to market with the hot new feature that will give their product an edge. Whatever your views on this, you cannot deny that every now and again they stumble upon something that is genuinely useful even if it is not useful in the way it was originally intended. The feature of interest to us here is the ability to use a smartphone or tablet (with the appropriate app installed) as a remote viewfinder and controller for a digital camera. Most of the major brands (Sony, Canon and Samsung) now offer reasonably affordable (sub €200) cameras that are Wi-Fi enabled. If the camera has Wi-Fi there is a good chance that it will also offer a Remote Live View feature (please don’t take this for granted and check before handing over your money).

Here and in the accompanying video we take a look at the Sony DSC-QX10 and its companion app PlayMemories available on Android and iOS. The Sony DSC-QX10 is what Sony are calling a lens style camera. By this they mean that it looks like a lens but is in fact a complete digital camera. The idea is that once paired with a smartphone or tablet with the PlayMemories app installed the smartphone becomes the viewfinder and controls of the camera. Although this is unarguably a clever and original idea, since its release about 6 months ago it has received mixed reviews. However if any of those reviewers had a physical disability that prevented them either grasping, lifting or holding a regular camera or perhaps dexterity issues that prevented them operating the fiddly controls found on modern “point and shoots” then maybe they would have given the DSC-QX10 a much warmer reception. Maybe even a round of applause!

Mounting

I am assuming that if a person has difficulty accomplishing a task such as taking a photograph with a standard camera due to a physical disability they are also a power wheelchair user. Therefore the first thing we must do is securely mount the camera on the user’s powerchair. The DSC-QX10 has a standard thread screw mount ( 1/4-20 or 1/4″ diameter, 20 threads per inch) on its base for attaching to a tripod. We can use this to mount it to the powerchair arm (or wherever works best) using something like a Manfrotto Variable Friction Arm , Gooseneck mount, RAM Mount or even GorillaPod. Once mounted at the height and position required they can use their chair controls to frame the shot.  If the user has the ability to operate a touch screen device like an iPad this can be mounted in front of them where they can easily view and access it (like on their tray for example).

Switch Control

Switch users can use this solution also through the Switch Control Accessibility feature in iOS 7 or above. Switch Control works really well with PlayMemories. Using Item scanning or Manual selection all the functions are recognised and scanned (in photo mode not in video mode) however fine focusing is not possible when in Program mode (this would only be of concern to more advanced users). As mentioned however Item Scanning does not work in Video mode, it will automatically switch to point scanning when you change to video capture mode (probably because the buttons in video mode aren’t marked up properly).  Because switching between scanning modes could cause confusion or difficulty and because of the ability to fine focus in program mode I would recommend using point scanning if at all possible (see video).

Android and Joystick Control

Android switch users won’t have Switch Control (because it is an iOS accessibility feature) but they can probably use ClicktoPhone or Tecla to access PlayMemories and take photos (we have not tested this yet). One big advantage that Android has over iOS however is for Joystick users. Many people with limited mobility use a joystick to drive their chair. There are also many powerchair controllers that can double as Mouse movers. The second half of the video is for this user group. In it we show the Playmemories App installed on a Samsung Galaxy Tab and through it the Sony DSC-QX10 being controlled by a joystick.

Are you interested in photography?

If this has fired up your interest in photography have a look at some of the links below.

Irish Camera Clubs  or International list of Camera Clubs – Joining a Camera Club is a great way to meet like-minded people and improve your photography. This list should help point you to a club in your area.

Disabled Photographers – Great site and active forum although full membership (£10 for 1 year) is only available to UK residents.

Virtual Photo Walks – utilises modern web technologies to allow photographers bring people with significant disabilities or those who are very ill on virtual photography tours. They use a smartphone to communicate on a Google + Hangout and talk through the photographs they are taking, explaining the reasons for their choice of shot. The person with the disability can also suggest/shots for the photographer to take, the photographer being a surrogate of sorts. There is a nice blog post explaining the origin of the idea here and the Google + page is here.