Docking your tablet to make it more accessible

RAM Desktop Docking charger which provides data connectivity

Docking a portable device could have many useful benefits for some users.  Connecting a charger up to a device may be difficult for some individuals because of the size of connectors such as Micro USB or a Lightning connectors.  They can be hard to see and difficult to manipulate to the correct position.  With this docking station all you have to do is to drop the device into the docking station and it starts to charge.  The device is also held at an upright angle eliminating the need to hold the device.

The RAM Desktop Dock Charger with GDS Technology for IntelliSkin not only provides a protective cover for a device but when docked it also provides a data connection while charging.   More USB devices such a speaker system, keyboard and mouse can be connected to make your device more accessible.

Single Handed Typing Tutor for Free

Single handed typing tutor and instruction – for free.

Doorwayonline.org.uk is a website from a Scottish charity called the Doorway Accessible Software Trust. It consists of a number of free software programs designed for literacy and numeracy development and also, an online typing tutor designed specifically for individuals who would like to learn to touch type on a Full Qwerty keyboard (Upper case, UK layout) with either their left or right hand.

A number of other programs such as the Lilly Walter’s program (www.aboutonehandtyping.com/downloads.html) and Five Finger Typist (www.typeonehand.com) also do this but this website has a significant difference in that the software is provided free of charge for users.

It has a number of features which should be noted before beginning to use this program;
1. It can be customised for individuals with a visual impairment with options to increase the keyboard size to full screen, increase the individual font size, add voice feedback for key hits and use alternative highlighting options for keys.
2. It offers two different home row locations for both Left and Right hand users. This can be useful if one position was more comfortable over the other but it can present some challenging positions for smaller hands
3. There’s no option to save or record your progress – a feature in most typing tutors. The program is split into 56 lessons which requires the user to remember their previous point when returning to their work.
4. Mouse control is required to activate a number of the options and also when setting it up – every time.
5. It has a simple clean look to it consisting of a white background and various coloured keys.
6. It contains no information on safe access to keyboarding for typists and offers no detail about available posture supports or alternative keyboards.

To begin with your typing programme;
• Navigate to www.doorwayonline.org.uk in your web Browser
• Select Typing and Touch Typing from the list.
• Select Single Handed Typing. Note that this area also contains instruction for a two handed touch-handed typing tutor as well!
• Click on the Enter option to start and customise your preferred layoutWebpage outline

There’s a little instruction on how to work with the program available from www.doorwayonline.org.uk/docs/single_handed_typing/shtyping_notes.pdf and the program itself contains instruction on how to activate Sticky Keys support for both Windows and Mac users.

The program consists of 56 lessons divided into core areas of work such as;
• Home Row (4 levels)
• Letters (16 levels)
• Symbols, words and then sentences.

Lessons vary in length/duration .

Finally, it is important to note that this software does not provide any extra information on what alternative keyboards are available or on the appropriate posture related supports for single handed typists. These are crucial areas which can significantly enhance a user’s keyboard access in a safe manner and should be explored before beginning any journey in learning to touch-type.

Hand writing recognition with the Microsoft Surface

With the increase use and development of tablets, hand recognition software has also further developed in recent years. Recognition of handwriting has got to a point where even poor hand writing is recognise by software tools. When our hand writing is converted to text it can be searched, spoken out or imported easily into other programs.

OneNote

I have taken a recent look at the handwriting features within OneNote 2013 using a Windows Surface Pro tablet. OneNote is an application that helps to organize your notes and information. OneNote 2013 is part of the Office 2013 suite with tools to convert handwriting into text. The OneNote app that comes bundled with Windows 8 lacks some handwriting recognition features.
There are two ways to convert your hand writing to text. You can use the handwriting recognition keyboard that can be found at the bottom right of the screen. This is good for small amounts of handwriting, up to about 5 words at a time. Or, you can also use “Ink to Text” button within the Draw tab of OneNote’s ribbon. This second way is more efficient if you are considering doing a lot of handwriting into your notes. It allows you to keep on handwriting until you are ready to convert into text. This feature is only available within the OneNote that comes as part of the Office suite i.e. OneNote 2010 or OneNote 2013.

Optional Text to Speech

To give the additional feature of text to speech I also installed TextHelp’s Read and Write Gold. Selecting the play button on Read and Write program will speak out any selected handwriting. You can use alternative free apps to do a similar task of text to speech but the Read and Write program provides a useful toolbar at the top of the screen. You also don’t have to copy and paste between programs.
In the video below, I give a short demonstration of the handwriting recognition tool within OneNote 2013. As it can be seen in the video the recognition works well, but it’s not perfect. However these tools could be an alternative to those have not developed any typing skills such as the older population.

Video Demo

Shortcuts to help

Below are a few keyboard shortcuts to help quickly select and convert your handwriting notes.

After you handwrite your note, you need to select the note that you want to convert to text. This can done by holding a button down on the pen while drawing a circle around your note. However this could be difficult for some users so the alternative is to use the Lasso.
To select the Lasso press Alt, D, L

When the note has been circled or selected it is then converted using the Ink to Text button on the ribbon.

To convert selected text press Alt, D, X

To set up the pen again for writing you need to select a pen from the pen list.

To bring up the pen list: Alt, D, P

To make the pen choice easier to access, create a favourite pen. To do this Press and Hold on the pen of choice until a menu appears. Then select Add to favourite Pens. This can then be moved up to the top of your favourites by a Press and Hold again on your favourite pen from the favourite pen list. This then gives the option to move the pen up the list. If the pen is at the top of the list then use the following shortcut.
To select the favourite pen for writing: Alt, D, P, Enter.

Using a program like Auto Hotkey these shortcuts could be further made easier to access by placing the whole shortcuts under the one key press, such as, with one of the function keys.

Note you can also use the other more general windows shortcuts such as Copy, Cut, Paste etc.

Menu size

If you find the general sizing of menu items too small, then you have the option on the Windows Surface to increasing the general size of things from within Display settings.

To do this from the Home screen, in the search box type Display settings. If you now select Display Settings you should see the option “More Options”. Here you can change the size of items on the screen. Select Larger.

Assistance for limited or missing hand function

Gripability is a company that produces a range of products to assist an individual with limited or missing hand function.  The products assist with the handing of any small object such as a cup, wine glass, cutlery or pen etc. This enables a wide active participation for the individual with a disability in everyday situations in the private, school or working environments.

The Gripability e3 consists of a electro pneumatic  grip that can be  attached to the hand or any other part of the body to suit the user.  The user activates the grip with a switch.

The Gripability xhand is a non-moving  electro pneumatic device for griping , holding or positioning objects.  It is mounted to a frame that can be easily adjusted to suit the individual’s needs.  These types of aids can help to facilitate an “I can” attitude.

See the video below for more information

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.

Tips for one handed typist and the tablet buyer

TabletThis article has some very good tips for one handed typists. The writer discusses options from alternative keyboards to alternative key layouts. This article is also a good read for anyone considering buying a new laptop or tablet. It discusses some of the features of Windows 8 Pro and RT, and gives the pros and cons of various touch screen tablets, Window tablets and laptops with rotating screens. Also provides some up-to-date price examples.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack/2014/jun/05/whats-the-best-touch-screen-pc-for-one-handed-use