Live Transcribe: People who are deaf can have conversations with those who are hearing using this app

A cartoon figure of person holding a takeaway cup with a phone app transcribing the speech of that person.

With just an Android phone, a deaf person or someone who is hard of hearing can have a conversation with anyone.  Live Transcribe is an app that types captions accurately in the language that’s being spoken. It’s powered by Google’s speech recognition technology and there are 70 languages to choose from.

Live Transcribe is easy to use, anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or network connection and it’s free to download.

The video below demonstrates how the app can be used.

According to Dr. Mohammad Objedat, Professor, Gallaudet University:

“Live Transcribe gives me a more flexible and efficient way to communicate with hearing people. I just love it, it really changed the way I solve my communication problem.”

And what’s next?

Google are currently working on the Live Relay project which aims to make phone calls easier for individuals who are deaf or non-speaking.

Live Relay uses on-device speech recognition and text-to-speech conversion to allow the phone to listen and speak on the users’ behalf while they type. By offering instant responses and predictive writing suggestions, Smart Reply and Smart Compose will help make typing fast enough to hold phone calls without any significant delays.  Follow @googleaccess for updates.

The good:  The captioning accuracy is excellent

The not so good: No offline option

The verdict:  Works really well, a valuable tool for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Mobile Device Accessibility: iOS and the Android Accessibility Suite

One aspect of modern technological life that might help us to keep some faith in humanity are the comprehensive assistive technologies that are built into, or free to download for mobile computing devices. Accessibility features, as they are loosely called, are a range of tools designed to support non-standard users of the technology. If you can’t see the screen very well you can magnify text and icons (1) or use high contrast (2). If you can’t see the screen at all you can have the content read back to you using a screen-reader (3). There are options to support touch input (4, 5) and options to use devices hands free (6). Finally there also some supports for deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) people like the ability to switch to mono audio or visual of haptic alternatives to audio based information.  

With their mobile operating system iOS Apple do accessibility REALLY well and this is reflected in the numbers. In the 2018 WebAim Survey of Low Vision users  there were over 3 times as many iOS users as Android users. That is almost the exact reverse of the general population (3 to 1 in favour of Android). For those with Motor Difficulties it was less significant but iOS was still favoured.

So what are Apple doing right? Well obviously, first and foremost, the credit would have to go to their developers and designers for producing such innovative and well implemented tools. But Google and other Android developers are also producing some great AT, often highlighting some noticeable gaps in iOS accessibility. Voice Access, EVA Facial Mouse and basic pointing device support are some examples, although these are gaps that will soon be filled if reports of coming features to iOS 13 are to be believed.

Rather than being just about the tools it is as much, if not more, about awareness of those tools: where to find them, how they work. In every Apple mobile device you go to Settings>General>Accessibility and you will have Vision (1, 2, 3), Interaction (4, 5, 6) and Hearing settings. I’m deliberately not naming these settings here so that you can play a little game with yourself and see if you know what they are. I suspect most readers of this blog will get 6 from 6, which should help make my point. You can check your answers at the bottom of the post 🙂 This was always the problem with Android devices. Where Apple iOS accessibility is like a tool belt, Android accessibility is like a big bag. There is probably more in there but you have to find it first. This isn’t Google’s fault, they make great accessibility features. It’s more a result of the open nature of Android. Apple make their own hardware and iOS is designed specifically for that hardware. It’s much more locked down. Android is an open operating system and as such it depends on the hardware manufactured how accessibility is implemented. This has been slowly improving in recent years but Google’s move to bundle all their accessibility features into the Android Accessibility Suite last year meant a huge leap forward in Android accessibility.

What’s in Android Accessibility Suite?

Accessibility Menu

Android OS Accessibility Suite Assistant Menu. An onscreen menu with large colourful buttons for features like, power, lock screen, volume
The figure highlighted in the bottom corner launches whatever Accessibility Suite tools you have active. If you have more than one a long press will allow you switch between tools.

Use this large on-screen menu to control gestures, hardware buttons, navigation, and more. A similar idea to Assistive Touch on iOS. If you are a Samsung Android user it is similar (but not as good in my opinion) as the Assistant Menu already built in.

Select to Speak

The select to speak tool when active on a webpage. large red button to stop speech. Arrow at left to extend menu, pause button

Select something on your screen or point your camera at an image to hear text spoken. This is a great feature for people with low vision or a literacy difficulty. It will read the text on screen when required without being always on like a screen reader. A similar feature was available inbuilt in Samsung devices before inexplicably disappearing with the last Android update. The “point your camera at an image to hear text spoken” claim had me intrigued. Optical Character Recognition like that found in Office Lens or SeeingAI built into the regular camera could be extremely useful. Unfortunately I have been unable to get this feature to work on my Samsung Galaxy A8. Even when selecting a headline in a newspaper I’m told “no text found at that location”.

Switch Access

cartoon hand activating a Blue2 switch. Android phone desktop with message icon highlighted

Interact with your Android device using one or more switches or a keyboard instead of the touch screen. Switch Access on Android has always been the poor cousin to Switch Control on iOS but is improving all the time.

TalkBack Screen Reader

Get spoken, audible, and vibration feedback as you use your device. Googles mobile screen reader has been around for a while, while apparently, like Switch Access it’s improving, I’ve yet to meet anybody who actually uses it full time.

So to summarise, as well as adding features that may have been missing on your particular “flavour” of Android, this suite standardises the accessibility experience and makes it more visible. Also another exciting aspect of these features being bundled in this way is their availability for media boxes. Android is a hugely popular OS for TV and entertainment but what is true of mobile device manufacturer is doubly so of Android Box manufacturers where it is still very much the Wild West. If you are in the market for an Android Box and Accessibility is important make sure it’s running Android Version 6 or later so you can install this suite and take advantage of these features.

Could you name the Apple iOS features?

  1. Zoom
  2. Display Accommodations or Increase Contrast   
  3. VoiceOver
  4. Assistive Touch
  5. Touch Accommodations
  6. Switch Control

Alex Lucas – Switch Access, Ableton Live and Inclusive Music

Since the year 2000 Enable Ireland’s Assistive Technology (AT) training service have run a Foundations in AT (5 ECTS) course certified by the Technological University Dublin (TUD). Those of you reading this post will most likely be familiar with AT and what a broad and rapidly evolving area it is. While overall the direction AT has taken over the last decade is positive and exciting, it has also become a more challenging area to work in. As a result, the importance and value of the Foundations in AT course has also increased and this is both reflected in, and as a direct result of the calibre of course participant we’ve had in recent years. The wealth of experience brought by participants each year helps the course evolve and develop, filling in gaps and offering new directions for technology to support people in areas beyond primary needs such as communication, access and daily living. Last month we began what is a new effort on our part to share with a wider audience some of the excellent work produced by Foundations in AT course participants with Shaun Neary’s post Accessible Photography – Photo Editing with Adobe Lightroom & the Grid 3. This month we will look at another area of creativity, music. 

Alex Lucas enrolled in the 2018 Foundations in AT course. As soon as we learned about his background and experience, we knew that his involvement in the course was an opportunity for us to learn more about accessible music technology and practice. Alex is an academic (PhD research student in Queen’s University Belfast), a maker, a musician, a developer and a product designer. Before returning to studies, he had gained 10 years’ experience working in mainstream music technology with big name companies like Focusrite and Novation. In Queens he is currently researching  “Supporting the Sustained Use of Bespoke Assistive Music Technology” and is part of the Research Group: Performance Without Barriers. He also works with Drake Music Northern Ireland

We could be accused of having underutilised Alex, but our suggestion for his project was to produce a resource that would act as an introduction to people new to the area of accessible music technology. Alex chose to focus on the mainstream Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) application Ableton Live and Switch input. As well as the project document (download link below) he released 5 really excellent tutorial videos on YouTube, the first of which is embedded here. 

Alex kindly agreed to contribute to this post so we asked him why he chose to focus on Ableton, to tell us a bit more about his work in inclusive music and a little about the research he is currently undertaking at Queens. Over to you Alex..

***

Why Ableton? 

There are many software applications available for computer-based music production. Ableton Live is arguably one of the most popular DAWs. When first released in 2001, Ableton Live set itself apart from other DAWs through a unique feature called Session View.

Session View is a mode of operation which can be thought of as a musical sketchbook providing composers with an intuitive way to create loop-based music; a feature which is particularly useful when creating electronic music. When combined with Ableton Live’s built-in virtual musical instruments and devices for creating and modifying musical ideas, we find ourselves with a rich toolset for composing music in inclusive settings.

How this works with groups?

Music connects people; we see this often when conducting group-based inclusive music workshops, making work of this kind essential to Drake Music NI. There could be up to twelve participants of mixed abilities in a typical Drake workshop. As Access Music Tutors, we approach group workshops by first speaking to each participant in turn to identify their creative goals. One individual may have an interest in playing distorted synthesiser bass sounds, while another may prefer the softer sound of a real instrument such as a piano. Knowledge of an individual’s creative goals and their access requirements is used to select an appropriate device for the participant to use to control a virtual instrument within Ableton Live.

In addition to the Access Switches described in the video’s mentioned above, Drake Music also uses commercially available assistive music technologies such as Soundbeam and Skoog, and mainstream MIDI controllers such as the Novation Launchpad. It’s possible to connect several of these devices to a single computer running Live.

Together, the group make core musical decisions; i.e. genre, tempo, musical key. The workshop will proceed in one of two ways, either we jam together, or record each participant in turn, building up a composition gradually using overdubbing techniques.

OMHI – One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust

There are a handful of other organisations within the UK, working towards providing inclusion in music. One notable organisation is the One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust (https://www.ohmi.org.uk/). Many traditional musical instruments are designed in such a way that they place a fundamental requirement on the musician; they must have two fully functional hands. This assumption results in the exclusion of some individuals from learning a traditional musical instrument. Furthermore, in some cases, accomplished musicians are not able to return to their instrument after losing the function of a hand due to illness or an accident. OHMI aims to address this shortcoming by running an annual competition which invites instrument designers to adapt traditional musical instruments to be played by one hand only. Many fantastic designs are submitted to OHMI each year. I’m particularly impressed by David Nabb’s Toggle-Key Saxophone (https://www.unk.edu/academics/music/_files/toggle-key-system.pdf) which retains all of the functionality of a standard saxophone while being playable by one hand.

Research

Whilst OHMI primarily focuses on the adaptation of traditional acoustic instruments for inclusion and accessibility; my research centres on the challenges faced by disabled musicians in the long-term use of custom-made digital musical instruments.

In partnership with a disabled musician named Eoin at Drake Music NI, together we’ve been designing a digital musical instrument tailored towards Eoin’s unique abilities. Eoin has a strong desire to play electric guitar but as Eoin cannot hold a guitar, due to its physical characteristics, he has been unable to up until this point.

Using a motion sensor and an access switch, coupled with a Raspberry Pi embedded computer, Eoin is now able to play rudimentary guitar sounds using the movements of his right arm. We’ve tested several prototypes and are now in the process of assembling the instrument for Eoin to use both during Drake music workshops and at home.

As a musician, Eoin is the primary user of the device; however we’ve also been considering Eoin’s primary carer, his father Peter, as a secondary user. We’ve designed a high-level interface for Peter to use, hopefully allowing him to easily set-up the device for Eoin to use at home. We’re particularly interested in the longevity of the device, whether or not it’s viable for Eoin and Peter to use independently. Obsolescence can be a problem for assistive technology in general. Our current assumption is that obsolescence may be an issue with custom-made accessible digital musical instruments but hope, through this research to discover useful mitigation strategies.

***

We just want to thank Alex again for making this tutorial and contributing to this post. The full accompanying document can be viewed/downloaded here. It really is a valuable resource for an area with such potential that is poorly supported at present (certainly here in Ireland) .

Keep an eye on Alex’s YouTube Channel or follow him on Twitter @alexaudio for more quality Accessible Music Technology information.


Mouse Access for iPad is here

person using a joystick mouse to control an iPad

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

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


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

Supplier Inclusive Technology.

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

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

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

Magnifier for Smart Phones and Tablet Devices: Claro MagX

App to magnify text or objects

Introduction

Claro MagX is an app that converts your iPhone, iPad or Android device into a visual magnifier. It basically makes small items bigger such as small text in a book or newspaper.  Just hold your phone up to whatever you want to magnify.

As the app can use the devices in-built flash, it can be used in a dimly lit area.  Advanced visual features include full-colour mode, two colour mode and grey scale mode. The app features 16 levels of magnification, high contrast and colour viewing options to make the text easier on your eyes.  Freeze mode option – tap the viewfinder to freeze the image for closer viewing. Tap the screen to release the freeze.


More apps from Claro

The good: Available free on iOS and Android and can be used on any tablet or phone.  It makes use of existing technology.

The not so good: Controls are small and hard to see on a small device.

The verdict: Great alternative to a dedicated handheld video magnifiers and is a useful app for anyone, but in particular for individuals with vision impairment.

Richard keeps it simple

We recently assessed a user “Richard” for an aid to make it easier to directly access his iPad. And in our journey to find a solution, we trialled the Stylus Pack from the National AT library.

 styluses suitable for a wide range of needs

Above photo and description  below are taken from the National AT Library site:

The Stylus Pack is a selection of styluses suitable for a wide range of needs. Each stylus is designed for people who have difficulty interacting with the iPad screen. Users can firmly grasp the styluses in order to use with the iPad. These items are suitable for an individual user, or a range of users with diverse needs. Features/Items Included: iPad Flex Stylus iPad Strap Stylus TBar Stylus Pogo Stylus Ball Top Stylus.

But let me begin at the beginning

Richard is non-verbal and uses the Allora communication aid daily. It is mounted onto his powered wheelchair. Richard drives his powered wheelchair with his right hand and also accesses the keyboard on the Allora with his right index finger. He has a limited range of movement of his right upper limb, but it is also his only means of access. Richard’s wheelchair does not have blue tooth capability.

Photos below by the author with consent by Richard.

Person using an Allora communication machinePerson holding onto power wheelchair joystick

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard is also a writer and accesses a PC by using the standard keyboard (positioned in a specific way on a height adjustable desk) and using mouse keys instead of an external mouse or joystick.

So this gives you an idea already that Richard has more than one way of accessing technology with his right hand. So why does he struggle with direct access on the iPad? Richard’s fingernail bed is very long. And even when his nails are at the shortest it can be it sticks over the top of his fingers. Therefore when he taps onto the screen, his nail makes contact and not his skin. This, along with very limited finger extension (he has strong flexor patterns in his wrist, metacarpal phalangeal joint and distal phalangeal joint) makes activating a touch screen very difficult/impossible.

But we wanted to try and find a solution as he has a (very old) iPad that he would love to use more as it is portable, as opposed to a PC.

Due to Richard’s limited hand function, unfortunately, none of the items in the Stylus Pack proved to be successful. The standard type pen stylus aids looked promising and the stylus we received as a freebie from the CSO in Cork is up to now the most successful. When I returned the Stylus Pack to the National AT Library I also added a CSO stylus into the pack.

standard type pen stylus

It takes great effort from Richard to maintain grip of the stylus and when it slips out of his hand he is not able to pick it up again and adjust his grip independently. Not shown on the Stylus Pack photo is also conductive thread. I did embroider his winter glove’s right index fingertip with the conductive thread but I am yet to see if this is successful. Past trials have shown limited success.

 

Richard loves his Allora and of course wants to continue to use it. It is a real workhorse. The battery lasts for long periods, it is at hand, no wifi needed and no access issues on that keyboard! But, he really longs for a more portable way and quick access to word processing, the internet and social media participation.

 

In the meantime, we have assessed Richard for a new moulded seat and powered wheelchair frame. This controls on the frame will also have blue tooth capability. I chatted to Richard about this and reminded him that he will be able to access a PC or laptop/tablet via the new powered wheelchair’s joystick. And as it is, he is toying with the idea of buying a new computer/tablet to replace the old iPad anyway.

 

So, at this stage:

* Richard continuous to use his Allora for communication.

* Uses a PC with an external keyboard to access word processing software, the internet and social media.

* Uses the CSO stylus for accessing the iPad mounted off a removable mount. This for now, it the alternative for when he is not close to a PC. Having to hold onto a stylus remains a frustrating way of access.

 

What is up next?

*Once Richard’s new powered wheelchair has been funded and issued, Richard will get used to the new joystick for driving, but also for accessing computers.

*He will continue to use his beloved Allora and PC as always.

*And after investing in a new tablet computer he will have the added bonus of accessing it via the powered wheelchair’s Bluetooth function.

The Stylus Pack is a great option to have on loan and it gives us a variety of ways to try and access a touchscreen. Unfortunately, in this case, it did not help us to come up with a solution. BUT:

We are on the right track and without having been able to trial the options, we would never have known.

Therefore the National AT Library remains a great resource!

 

Gerlene Kennedy, Senior Occupational Therapist

Enable Ireland Adult Services, Little Island

Co. Cork

 

 

Distraction-free studying!

We all know what it’s like being in school when the sun is shining outside and all you can think about is being out there!  Or when you’re trying to get your homework done and all you can think about is who’s posting what on Snapchat or Instagram?  Or have you ever found yourself managing to get a study block done and then taking a well-deserved 5-minute break to take a peek at social media, only to emerge from your phone a half an hour later and way behind on your study schedule?  Well, the following free apps are for you! In fact, they’re for anyone who wants to use their time on their computer or smartphone more productively, whether you’re a student or not.

 

Stay Focused

Screenshot of Stay Focused web appStay Focused is a free google chrome extension that helps you to stay focused on your work by stopping you from looking at time-wasting websites (e.g. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter).  You set a certain amount of time in the day that you’re allowed to look at those distracting websites and then once your allotted time for the day has been used up, it blocks you out of them.  End of distractions!  You can also choose to have a complete block on the websites that are your major culprits for time-wasting.

 

Leech Block

Screenshot of Leech Block web app

This one works in a similar way to Stay Focused but it’s for the Mozilla Firefox browser instead of Chrome.  You can specify up to six sets of sites to block, with different times and days for each set (e.g. you could have Twitter blocked from 9am to 5pm and Facebook blocked for all but 10 minutes in every hour).

 

Strict Workflow

Screenshot of Strict Workflow web appThis is one of many apps that use the timing principle behind the Pomodoro Technique (i.e. you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, then after four of these sessions you can take a longer break of 15-30mins).  This Google Chrome extension helps you to concentrate on your work by blocking a list of websites for the amount of time you’ve set and once your working period is over, it’ll unblock those sites to give you a break from work before you hit those books again!

 

Offtime

Screenshot of Offtime phone app

Offtime is an app for iOS and Android smartphones that not only lets you block calls, texts and notifications when you’re trying to work, but it can also track your phone and app usage so you can identify what distracts you most.  You can set different profiles, like School, Family and Me Time and when you’re finished your work, it gives you an activity log with a list of everything that happened while you were working so you don’t have to worry about missing out on anything.

So, with these apps you’ll be able to maximise your study time and even better, you’ll be able to look at all your favourite websites and apps guilt-free on your breaks!

Boardmaker Online now launched in Ireland

Tobii Dynavox have recently launched their new Boardmaker Online product in Ireland through SafeCare Technologies. It has all the functionalities of previous versions of Boardmaker, except now that it’s web-based you don’t need any disks and multiple users can access it from any PC.

Instructor showing students how to use Boardmaker Online

You can purchase a Personal, Professional or District account and the amount you pay depends on the type of account, the amount of “instructors” and how many years you want to sign up for. You can also get a discount for any old Boardmaker disks that you want to trade in.

You get all the symbols that have been available in past versions, as well as some new symbol sets and any new ones that are created in the future will also be given to you. Because it’s web-based, you have access to previously created activities via the online community and you can upload activities you create yourself to that community and share them with other people in your district or all over the world.

Because it’s no longer tied to one device, you can create activities on your PC and assign them to your “students” who can use them either in school and/or at home. You no longer need to have a user’s device in your possession to update their activities and they don’t need to have a period without their device while you do this.

You (and the other instructors in your district if you have a district licence) can also assign the same activity to many students and by having different accessibility options set up for different students, the activity is automatically accessible for their individual needs. For example, you could create an activity and assign it to a student who uses eye gaze and to a student who uses switches and that activity will show up on their device in the format that’s accessible for them.

Picture shows how instructors can assign Boardmaker Online activities to multiple students

The results of students’ work can be tracked against IEP or educational goals which then helps you decide what activities would be suitable to assign next. You can also track staff and student usage.

One limitation is that you can only create activities on a Windows PC or Mac. You can play activities on an iPad using the free app but not create them on it, and you can’t use Boardmaker Online to either create or play activities on an Android or Windows-based tablet.

The other point to mention is that because it’s a subscription-based product, the payment you have to make is recurring every year rather than being a one-off payment, which may not suit everyone.

However, with the new features it’s definitely worth getting the free 30-day trial and deciding for yourself if you’d like to trade in your old Boardmaker disks for the new online version!

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.