AT for Creative Expression and Leisure

As we all figure out how best to cope with the Covid 19 pandemic and the social distancing that comes with it, we figured that many of you might be interested in learning about Assistive Technologies for Creative Expression and Leisure: Music, Photography and Gaming. Some of these may come in very handy as we all try to stay connected with one another during these trying times.

We are making our AT for Creative Expression and Leisure courses free for everyone to access over the next few months. These 4 short courses look at some ways that technology can assist people with disabilities engaging in creative pursuits and leisure activities. We have included the Introduction course below. This should be of interest to everybody and helps frame the subsequent content. The remaining 3 courses are available on our Learning Portal at enableirelandAT.ie.

You will need to create an account to access these courses but once you have your account you can self-enrol for free. Creating an account is easy. All you need is access to email to confirm your account. There is a video at the bottom of this post which will guide you through the process of creating an account. You don’t need to look at the second half of the video as these courses do not require an enrolment key.

Please let us know how you get on, and feel free to post your queries and comments at the bottom of this page. We’d love to hear what your own experiences are, and if there is content that you think we should add to these courses.

Introduction 

Below we have embedded the Introduction course. It’s too small to use as it but you can make it full screen by clicking the third blue button from the left at the bottom or click here to open in a new tab/window.

We hope that after completing this short introduction you are inspired to learn more. If so there are links to the other 3 courses below and also the video showing you how to create your account on our Learning Portal.

Art & Photography

Abstract painting. Blue dominant colour. distinct brush or  pallet knife strokes. text repeated below

In this short course we suggest some technologies that will enable people with disabilities access, engage and create art through media like painting or drawing, photography, video or animation.

Enrol in Art & Photography

Leisure & Gaming

2 children using an apple powerbook. boy has hands in the air, c=smiling, celebrating

Leisure and gaming can be sometimes overlooked when considering the needs of an individual. But it can be an important part of a young person’s development and help enable inclusion into society. This module looks at how we can make leisure time and gaming more inclusive to a wide range of abilities. There are now many options for accessible toys, game consoles and switch adapted toys. The module covers a sample of these options with some suggested links for further reading.

Enrol in the Leisure & Gaming Course

Music: Listen, Create, Share

screenshot of the eyeharp eyegaze music software. clock like radial interface. users eyes in letterbox image at centre. text below

Music is an accessible means of creative expression for all abilities. Even the act of passively listening to music engages the brain in the creative process. In this short course we will look at some mainstream and specialist hardware and software that can help facilitate creative musical expression.

Enrol in the Music: Listen, Create, Share Course

Creating an account on enableirelandAT.ie

Creative use of technology during Covid 19 pandemic

Featured

Posted on March 25th 2020 by Siobhan Long

Using technology to support people with disabilities, their families and those who support them during the Covid 19 pandemic

Some initial suggestions

Note: This is an evolving ideas post which we encourage you to contribute to: together we can be creative in how we use technology to support people with disabilities who may be feeling isolated and worried, and we can also consider innovative ways of remote working to benefit all.

This is already a very worrying time for people with disabilities, being constantly reminded that they are in a high-risk group when it comes to Covid 19. With schools and services shut down, how can we use technology to facilitate communication, prevent people feeling isolated and maybe provide some kind of distraction?

Disclaimer: By means of this website, Enable Ireland provides information concerning accessing and using technology. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information provided by this website is reasonably comprehensive, accurate and clear. However, the information provided on or via this website may not necessarily be completely comprehensive or accurate, and, for this reason, it is provided on an “AS IS” and “AS AVAILABLE” basis. Each individual or organisation accessing and relying on the information shared should carry out their own review of the suggestions we make from a legal and regulatory point of view.If you think you may have noticed any error or omission, please let us know by contacting Siobhan Long at: slong@enableireland.ie. It is our policy to correct errors or omissions as soon as any error or omission has been established to our satisfaction.

WhatsApp or Viber Groups

This is something most of us use and find very useful. Disability services could set up a group/groups and use them as a way to keep communication open while people are at home.

WhatsApp is very accessible as it allows people to contribute to a group chat using recorded Video or Audio or text. It’s a good way to share jokes and funny stories and keep morale up. It supports individual and groups (up to 4) video and audio calls.

Advantages

  • Accessible (to many)
  • Familiar

Disadvantages

  • Needs a smartphone, computer or tablet.
  • Only supports groups up to 4 in real-time calls or video
  • Your privacy is not guaranteed using these forums

Echo Dot or Echo Show

For some people, speech is the easiest way for them to access technology. The Amazon Alexa powered devices can be a very intuitive way of getting information, entertainment (music, radio, audiobooks adventure games). They also support a feature called “Drop-in”. When setting up a device you can add friends or contacts who also have Echo devices and allow them to “Drop-in”. This could provide a good means of keeping contact with people who may not be comfortable enough with technology to use a smartphone or WhatsApp. It works basically like an intercom. The person being dropped in on does not have to do anything other than answer, no buttons to press or commands are needed. It’s like talking to them if they were in the room with you. The Echo Show (only £50 on Amazon at the moment) has a screen and camera also. We are not sure if you can Drop-in with video of if you need to use a video calling service. (Maybe someone reading this already knows the answer?)

Advantages

  • Very easy to use natural speech interface.
  • Lots of entertainment options
  • Can open communication channels in a natural way with user input

Disadvantages

  • GDPR/Privacy/Consent considerations are an issue as you may not receive the privacy you expect

Video Conferencing

MICROSOFT TEAMS

Microsoft Teams is a hub for teamwork in Office 365. It is currently free to download and use, during this Covid 19 pandemic. It is most likely to be initially at least, most useful to staff, as there is a degree of learning and familiarization involved: Here’s an introductory video illustrating how Teams works.

SKYPE

Skype should be familiar with being the original voice and video calling service. Perhaps not as popular as it once was it is still used by many people. Once someone is set up and signed in it should be easy enough to navigate. Skype is keyboard accessible, which will allow us to use alternative input methods or create a simplified interface using software like the Grid 3. Unfortunately, Skype no longer supports games like checkers and chess but it is still a good option especially if people are already using it.

ZOOM

Currently free, the video conferencing tool Zoom is a great way of bringing larger groups together via video. It supports all the main platforms (Windows iOS, Android and macOS). It’s quite an easy app to use and is free to install and use for up to 40 minutes. This could be used to bring everyone together at a certain time every day and would be probably the best way of simulating the atmosphere people would be familiar with within the services they normally attend. When hosting a meeting, you can select ‘share screen only’ to ensure that there is no potential for making any changes to attendees’ own devices. Without selecting this feature, it would be possible to remotely access devices, and this is something that would require written/recorded consent.

Note: Corporate IT Departments may have concerns re: this solution as they may not have any prior agreement with them. So for service providers, best to check with their IT and Data Protection officer before considering it.

Advantages

  • Free and relatively easy to use
  • Supports large group video calls
  • Great casting tool

Disadvantages

  • GDPR concerns given your privacy is not guaranteed
  • Requires a computer or mobile device
  • Will be new and unfamiliar to most (all)

FaceBook Groups

Enable Ireland Communications Department have created guidelines for designated staff authorised to start Facebook Groups for the purpose of communicating with clients and their family’s. These guidelines offer some do’s and don’t in regard to moderating these groups and suggest the appropriate privacy settings that need to be applied. You can request a copy of this document from our Communications Department.

communication@enableireland.ie

Set up an Internet Radio Station

There are services that allow you to create an online radio station (for example https://radio.co/). This would be a great way of keeping people in touch with news and entertainment custom made for a specific audience. Rotate DJs between services, have chats, play music, share the news. Bit of a mad idea but could be fun for everyone. If a live radio channel is a bit of a stretch we could maybe produce a daily podcast. Get people to record introduction to songs on their phones and send us the audio. Record thoughts, news, jokes, and we can try to put it all together and send out a link for everyone to listen. Video could also be used and make private links on YouTube.

Advantages

  • Accessible to (almost) all as listeners
  • Offers opportunity to be a producer as well as consumer of news/entertainment
  • All content curated by surface users

Disadvantages

  • Totally new to us, not sure of the requirements for setting it up but happy to hear from others more familiar, and happy to try it out.

Watch Together

YouTube is very popular and supports synchronised watching of YouTube videos and real-time chat.

https://www.watch2gether.com/?lang=en

Online Games

There are lots of games available online that allow you to invite friends to play remotely. Why not curate and manage a range? Suited to Draughts, Battleship, Ludo, Scrabble, Chess although younger players might be more interested in Fortnite

Advantages

  • Many of these games will be familiar to people already
  • Great distraction; Start a league!

Disadvantages

  • Many of the sites that offer these games are funded by advertising and can be difficult to navigate (auto-playing videos, links to products, flashing ads designed to trick people into clicking on them. This is not an insurmountable problem but it would be a good bit of work identifying appropriate platforms. iOS might be better.

Virtual photo walks

This is a lovely idea we came across. The original uses Google Hangouts but any video conferencing app would work.

Books – reading, looking and listening audio books

Story Weaver https://storyweaver.org.in/ is an open platform for the creation and distribution of books aimed at children under 16. Although a lot of the content has been created by and for other cultures & languages with almost 20,000 currently in the catalogue there should be plenty of interest there. The real potential with this site, however, is creating your own richly illustrated books with their easy to use web app.

Audio Books are hugely popular, they are accessible and can be consumed while completing other activities like your daily.  Audible (free for 30 days and linked to Echo/Amazon/Kindle) is the big name with the largest catalogue. 

Bookshare Ireland is available for people with visual or print disabilities. You can also download Audio Books or eBooks from your local library https://www.librariesireland.ie/elibrary/eaudiobooks.

Do you have a nice voice, or rather has anybody else ever told you have a nice voice? If so and you have a good quality microphone why not volunteer for https://librivox.org/. The Librivox project has been creating high-quality audiobooks from all public domain literature for a number of years. There is a huge selection to download and listen to as well as for instructions on how to begin creating your own.


Webinars

AbilityNet

 https://abilitynet.org.uk/free-resources/webinars  have a webinar in conjunction with the UK Stroke Association next week. They are also planning weekly webinars (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) over the next month. https://abilitynet.org.uk/news-blogs/abilitynet-live-free-events-about-technology-and-disability

AHEAD

 https://www.ahead.ie/conference2020  have moved their conference online, with a series of webinars over the next 10 weeks, starting this afternoon and tomorrow. They also have an archive of past webinars https://www.ahead.ie/Digital-Accessibility-Webinar-Series

AbleNet

 https://www.ablenetinc.com/resources/live_webinars have some webinars scheduled over the coming weeks, but also have access to a large bank of recorded webinars at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnqbFTy0VIQ6fVxXY2HiOJw/videos

Perkins Learning

has some prerecorded webinars https://www.perkinselearning.org/videos/webinar/assistive-technology

Call Scotland

also have scheduled and archived webinars available https://www.callscotland.org.uk/professional-learning/webinars/

Pacer

have cancelled a lot of their webinars for April/May https://www.pacer.org/workshops/ but they have an extensive list of archived webinars – https://www.pacer.org/webinars/archive-listing.asp

Shane Hastings Giveback Directory of free products / services available during COVID-19

Education (26)

Business Resources (9)

Health & Wellbeing (17)

Sports (7)

Entertainment (6)

Music (8)

Technology (7)

As mentioned, this is just for starters: if we all think creatively we can harness technology in many ways to support service users and staff through this difficult time. Please contact us with your suggestions and we’ll add them to this document. Thanks!

And check out Enable Ireland’s National Assistive Technology Training Service’s free online content on Assistive Technology for Creative Expression: on enableirelandat.com

Stay safe and well, and please share/respond/add your own suggestions/ideas. We’re all better together:) Or as we say in Ireland, Ní neart go cur le céile

Siobhan, Karl, Juliann, Sean and Shirley: The Enable Ireland AT Team

Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit – The Final Key to Disabled Gaming

Last year I wrote a review of the Xbox adaptive controller. I detailed how it had opened up the world of gaming to many people with a disability after years of looking longingly at gamers who delved into another round of FIFA or Grand Theft Auto. By the time I was done I realised that now only one barrier remained the barrier of cost. Thankfully that is where Logitech has stepped in with their new gaming accessory kit to alleviate some of that financial pressure.

Taking a quick look back at the review of the Xbox adaptive controller you’ll see that the controller connects with the Xbox and where it becomes adaptive is that it can be used with any form of adaptive devices that you may use depending on your disability, most often those devices are series of different pressure pads or buddy buttons. In my case I use the adaptive controller along with a series of about 4 to 6 buddy buttons to act as the trigger buttons on the top of the normal Xbox controller, buttons I normally otherwise would never be able to access restricting me in 90% of games available on the Xbox.

To Quote Brad Pitt in Seven “What’s in the Box?”

Before I even get as far as describing what is in the box funnily enough I’m going to describe the box itself. Logitech seem to have taken to take all aspects of the adaptive nature of the product into account by making the packaging more accessible. The tape sealing the box shut has Loops at the end for somebody with limited use of their hands and weak grip to easily pull the box open. Inside there is a huge array of devices each of which is packaged in a plastic bag (not for the environmentalists) that are loose and slippy so the device can be easily slid out.

So that’s the box itself dealt with it. now what is inside the box? The box contains an array of 12 different pressure activation buttons (see photo below). These activation buttons vary in size and in response time and are designed to suit a variety of different disabilities. Logitech have also included two sheets of stickers that you can apply to each button you’re using , these stickers identify which button on the Xbox controller your activation pressure buttons represent.

the logitech kit has 4 switch types. All black from left is the light touch button (4 in kit), large button (3 in kit), Variable triggers (2 in kit) and small button (3 in kit)

It has also taken into account the frustration that is involved when one button slips at the most crucial of points by including a collection of velcro stickers  and two pads that can interconnect with one another that sit across your lap and hold your buttons in place making them more accessible to you when you need them most. Now you’re far less likely to have them slip from underneath your hand as you are about to shoot that last enemy in Fortnite or score the winning goal in FIFA.

It’s All About the Money, Cost?

It’s very simple if you are living on disability allowance alone gaming is still very expensive. The consoles themselves are expensive not to mention the price of the games.

Unfortunately like most things once you add in the word disability there is a further cost. The Xbox adaptive controller on its own is not very useful for most people with a disability and that unit itself cost in the region of €80.

The adaptive controller must be combined with the activation pressure buttons that are most often used in conjunction with the adaptive controller. This is where the price starts to go up very very quickly.

Each buddy button can cost in the region of 60 to €80. When you consider that I need to use a minimum of 4 to 6 body buttons to use the adaptive controller to it’s full potential you can see how the cost can rocket very quickly. That’s a potential cost of €480 to fully equip you with the buttons you need.

So taking that into account Logitech gaming accessory pack price of €99 is a complete bargain with a variety of 12 different pressure buttons included within the pack. They are more lightweight and possibly will take less of a beating than some of the official ones which appear to have a more sturdy build but it is a fantastic opportunity.

Have a look at the video below to learn more about the process that made this kit possible.

 Even if you are not a gamer but use a number of pressure activation buttons or buddy buttons around the house in your day-to-day life then the Logitech gaming accessory it could be a solution for you.

Get your Adaptive Gaming Kit from Logitech here

Handsfree Lip and chin Joysticks

Person using a BJOY chin joystick to control a computer
User using the BJOY chin joystick

A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, wearable sensors, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  One other possible group of devices are Lip and chin Joysticks. 

These products are designed specifically for users with physical disabilities. They are typically USB Plug and Play, which means they will work with any computer platform that supports USB mice, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Android. All can be customized using the built-in mouse settings in the operating system, while some will also include setup software for further customization.

To activate the mouse buttons. The IntegraMouse+, Jouse3, and QuadJoy incorporate a sip/puff switch into their joystick, so that a sip action clicks one mouse button, and a puff action clicks the other. Other options are switches, the BJOY Chin has two circular switch pads, one on either side of the joystick, which can be pressed using the chin or cheek. And the TetraMouse has a second joystick that is devoted to button actions, right next to the joystick for cursor control. Low cost options are the Tobias’ mouse and the Flipmouse.  This are open source hardware and software projects with documented instruction on how to build and 3D Print.  The user moves the cursor by using a mouthpiece. The right mouse button is operated by pushing the mouthpiece towards the case. The left mouse button is emulated by a sensor that recognizes if the user sucks air through it.

Some Lip and chin Joysticks options to consider are

IntegraMouse+  €2000

Person using a IntegraMouse for mouse control

Jouse3 $1,495

Person using a Jouce3 for mouse control

QuadJoy 3 $1,398.60

Person using a QuadJoy 3 for mouse control

BJOY Chin €445

TetraMouse XA2 $449

TetraMouse XA2 for mouse control

Tobias’ mouse  <€50 for parts

Tobias’ mouse low cost opensource mouse

FLipMouse €179

FLipMouse low cost opensource mouse

Video

  • The good:  These hand free options can potentially have precise control and are not effected by lighting or sound.

The not so good: do require a line-of-sight to the computer, and commercial options are expensive.

The verdict:  If you need or want the ability to make very fine cursor control, and don’t want to wear a sensor or reflective dot then these joysticks are a good option for hands free control.

XAC (XBOX Adaptive Controller) User Review

I have always been a bit of a gamer. From Tetris on the original Gameboy to Sonic and the SEGA Mega Drive, I was always keen to pass the time away rapidly instructing a cartoon character to bounce from one side of the screen to another. Since I acquired my disability in 1999 though I felt
that large parts of this world were now no longer accessible to me. I felt with limited use of my arms and no use of my fingers consoles were out of the question. That changed recently when the Xbox brought out their new accessible controller.

I had tried to use several different games on the PlayStation and the Xbox, my nephew had a PlayStation and I had been able to use the left stick and some of the buttons on the ordinary controller but despite me telling him not to use the trigger buttons which were inaccessible to me I still got hammered several times by him on FIFA.

This new accessible controller seemed as though it would provide me with the opportunity to have the full experience of console gaming again, but who is going to buy an Xbox One and accessible controller just to see if they can use it or not? Thankfully Enable Ireland came to my rescue and
they allowed me to borrow their console and controller for the period of a month.


XBox Adaptive Controller (XAC)

The controller is simple to use and simple to set up. I needed some help to physically plug some aids in and out of the controller but apart from that it was a breeze.

The controller is setup for people of all abilities. The variety of configurations is as wide as the number of disabilities of the people who it is geared to provide for.

The xbox adaptive controller with some compatible accessories, switches, one handed joystick


I used the controller mainly for games like FIFA, Ryse, Forza 5, and some slightly more intricately controlled games like Grand Theft Auto and Battlefield.

Some games I used just the accessible controller with the coloured plug in switches that Enable Ireland provided alongside the console.

For other more complicated games, I used the Co-Pilot feature. The Co-Pilot feature allows you to use the ordinary controller as best you can while using the accessible controller switches for any bits or buttons on the ordinary controller that you can’t access.

Forza 5

Forza 5 cover
Forza switch setup. 4 switches. break, go , left , right

My setup for Forza, the car racing game, was the simplest of all. I took 4 of the aid switches and plugged them into the accessible controller, one was plugged into RT for the accelerator, one was plugged into LT for the brake, and the remaining two were plugged into the left and right ports on
the d-pad. I placed the RT switch under my elbow to continuously accelerate, which then meant my hands only had to focus on the three remaining buttons for steering and braking. That was a huge success, and meant I did not need any assistance throughout any of the gameplay on that particular game. Though that does not mean I was a great driver!

using elbow switch for accellator left only 3 switches to operate and drive successfully

FIFA 19

FIFA 19 Cover
switch setup for FIFA 19. One switch on arm rest, two on right leg, one on left leg and the xbox controller

For FIFA I used the Co-Pilot feature. I used the ordinary controller as I had done previously with my nephew, steering my player with the left stick while passing, tackling, shooting, etc with the usual A, B, X, and Y buttons.

I used the Xbox Accessible Controller then for the sprint and switch player options. I simply plugged in the switches into the RT and LT ports on the accessible controller and played normally on the ordinary controller while occasionally tapping the switches to change player or holding them down
with my elbow to sprint.

A very successful and intelligent solution which resulted in a 5-1 victory for me over my nephew! His face was a picture 🙂

Ryse, GTA & Battlefield

Ryse cover
Grand Theft Auto cover
Battlefield cover

Each of these I played with a similar set up to FIFA (pictured above). I used the Co-Pilot feature, the ordinary controller in conjunction with the accessible controller with four switches plugged into the RT, LT, RB, and LB ports.

Mainstream controller supplemented by a switch on the armrest, two on right knee and one on left

These games were a bit more intricate in their controls in comparison to the others and a little more difficult to use as a result. The accessible controller meant though that it was possible for me to at least give it a go. This controls setup was good and meant that I actually completed the story mode of Ryse, on easy.

I could play the vast majority of GTA and Battlefield without any difficulty, but there were certain issues. To use the character’s “special abilities” in GTA you had to press down on both the left and right sticks. I think you could set that up but that would require two more switches which I didn’t have.

Also, on occasion, while I had all the right buttons the scenario in the game was so complex that it involved pressing a number of buttons and steering at least one, if not both, sticks at the same time. It was almost equivalent to playing some musical instrument. On one mission I did have to fall back on some assistance from my nephew.

Conclusion

While it is still not quite the same as gaming prior to my disability the Xbox Accessible Controller has reopened the prospect of gaming properly on a regular basis and owning a console of my own again. This was a world that I thought had long left me behind but thanks to Microsoft and Xbox I’m
right back in the game!

Hands-free Minecraft from Special Effect

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).

minecraft on screen keyboard

The inventory keyboard

MineCraft on screen keyboards

The main Minecraft on screen keyboard

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.

FlipMouse – Powerful, open and low cost computer access solution

The FLipMouse (Finger- and Lip mouse) is a computer input device intended to offer an alternative for people with access difficulties that prevent them using a regular mouse, keyboard or touchscreen. It is designed and supported by the Assistive Technology group at the UAS Technikum Wien (Department of Embedded Systems) and funded by the City of Vienna (ToRaDes project and AsTeRICS Academy project). The device itself consists of a low force (requires minimal effort to operate) joystick that can be controlled with either the lips, finger or toe. The lips are probably the preferred access method as the FlipMouse also allows sip and puff input.

man using a mounted flipmouse to access a laptop computer

Sip and Puff is an access method which is not as common in Europe as it is in the US however it is an ideal way to increase the functionality of a joystick controlled by lip movement. See the above link to learn more about sip and puff but to give a brief explanation, it uses a sensor that monitors the air pressure coming from a tube. A threshold can be set (depending on the user’s ability) for high pressure (puff) and low pressure (sip). Once this threshold is passed it can act as an input signal like a mouse click, switch input or keyboard press among other things. The Flipmouse also has two jack inputs for standard ability switches as well as Infrared in (for learning commands) and out (for controlling TV or other environmental controls). All these features alone make the Flipmouse stand out against similar solutions however that’s not what makes the Flipmouse special.

Open Source

The Flipmouse is the first of a new kind of assistive technology (AT) solution, not because of what it does but because of how it’s made. It is completely Open Source which means that everything you need to make this solution for yourself is freely available. The source code for the GUI (Graphical User Interface) which is used to configure the device and the code for the microcontroller (TeensyLC), bill of materials listing all the components and design files for the enclosure are all available on their GitHub page. The quality of the documentation distinguishes it from previous Open Source AT devices. The IKEA style assembly guide clearly outlines the steps required to put the device together making the build not only as simple as some of the more advanced Lego kits available but also as enjoyable. That said, unlike Lego this project does require reasonable soldering skills and a steady hand, some parts are tricky enough to keep you interested. The process of constructing the device also gives much better insight into how it works which is something that will undoubtedly come in handy should you need to troubleshoot problems at a later date. Although as stated above Asterics Academy provide a list of all components a much better option in my opinion would be to purchase the construction kit which contains everything you need to build your own FlipMouse, right down to the glue for the laser cut enclosure, all neatly packed into a little box (pictured below). The kit costs €150 and all details are available from the FlipMouse page on the Asterics Academy site. Next week I will post some video demonstrations of the device and look at the GUI which allows you program the FlipMouse as a computer input device, accessible game controller or remote control.

FlipMouse construction kit in box

I can’t overstate how important a development the FlipMouse could be to the future of Assistive Technology. Giving communities the ability to build and support complex AT solutions locally not only makes them more affordable but also strengthens the connection between those who have a greater requirement for technology in their daily life and those with the creativity, passion and in-depth knowledge of emerging technologies, the makers. Here’s hoping the FlipMouse is the first of many projects to take this approach.

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.

From LOMAK to MILO – Good ideas are never obsolete

One of the more dubious advantages of working in a long running Assistive Technology service is access to an ever growing supply of obsolete hardware. While much of it is worthless junk now considering the technological progress in the field over the last 10 years, there are some real gems to be rediscovered. These were innovative solutions of their time grounded in strong research and while being seemingly made obsolete by a newer technology actually still have much to offer. The LOMAK keyboard is certainly one of these and being possibly the only piece of AT on permanent display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art I’m obviously not alone in thinking this.

top picture showing a man using the LOMAK keyboard with a laptop computer. bottom picture shows the layout of the LOMAK keyboard. Three rings, large centre ring for letters, right ring numbers, left ring symbols

The LOMAK (Light Operated Mouse And Keyboard) was invented by New Zealander Mike Watling and first came on the market in 2005 after a number of years research. It allowed hands free computer access through the innovative use of a laser pointer and light sensitive keyboard and mouse controls. To make the light sensitive keyboard and mouse (I’ll call it an input device from here) Watling used an array or photoresistors, one for each keyboard, mouse action and setting. This amounted to a whopping 122 photoresistors and possibly the most electronically complex input device ever marketed. Although complex the idea behind the LOMAK is quite straight forward. Photoresistors change their resistance depending on the amount of light they are picking up. Once you figure out roughly how much shining a laser pen on the resistor changes its value you have a good idea of where to set your threshold. You can then use the photo-resistor as a straightforward momentary switch, like a keyboard key, that activates once the resistance goes above/below a certain threshold. If you are like me you will want to see inside this thing so here it is.. (Below), a thing of beauty I’m sure you’ll agree.

The LOMAK keyboard opened out to reveal the photo-resistors and the circuit board.

So why aren’t more people using LOMAK keyboards today? Well eye tracking technology was just starting to become a realistic possibility for AT users with devices like the Tobii P10 hitting the market.  Eye tracking just made more sense for computer access, it allows a neater more mobile solution and it a more direct input method. What has given the whole concept behind the LOMAK a new lease of life is the availability of cheap user-friendly prototyping platforms like Arduino.
This was the basis of one of the project proposals we made available to the final year students of the BSc (Honours) Creative Media Technologies course in IADT. Over the last few years Enable Ireland AT service have worked with IADT lecturer Conor Brennan to provide students with a selection of project briefs that both fit with their learning and skills while also fulfilling a need that has been recognised through our work supporting AT users and professionals in the area. This particular brief was to create a MIDI interface based on the same concept as the LOMAK that would allow someone to perform and compose music using only head movements. There are solutions available that use eye tracking to achieve this, for example the fantastic EyeHarp and more recently Ruud van der Wel of My Breath My Music released his Eye Play Music  software. However these solutions all require a computer, we wanted something that was more in keeping with current trends in mainstream electronic music which seems to be moving back to a more hardware based performance. Thankfully a particularly talented student by the name of Rudolf Triebel took on the challenge of designing and building what we are now calling the MILO (Musical Interface using Laser Operation) (previously called LOMI Light Operated MIDI Interface which I think is much better..:). Rudolf exceeded our expectations and created the prototype you can see in the (badly filmed, sorry) video below. He has also created a tutorial including wiring diagram, code and bill of materials and put it up on Instructables to allow the project to be replicated and improved by others.

If you would like to see and maybe have a go of the MILO prototype (in its spanking new laser cut enclosure) Conor Brennan of IADT will be showing and demonstrating it at the 25th EAN Conference which takes place in University College Dublin between Sunday 29th – Tuesday 31st May.
Keep an eye on electroat.com where I hope to add a few more detailed posts on building, modifying and increasing the functionality of Rudolf’s design. I will also look into the possibility of using the same concept for building a hands free video game controller.

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.”