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.

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.

Hands-free access for Android

With iOS Apple have firmly established themselves as the mobile device brand of choice for those with alternative access needs. The extensive accessibility features, wide range of AT apps and third party hardware as well as iOS’ familiarity, ease of use and security, all make it a choice hard to look beyond. Yet this is exactly what many people do, 1.3 Billion Android devices were shipped in 2015, that’s 55% of all computing devices mobile or otherwise. A large majority of these would be budget smartphones or tablets purchased in developing markets where the price tag associated with Apple products could be considered prohibitive. There are however reasons other than cost to choose Android and thankfully Google have been quietly working away to give you even more. One in particular, which is currently in beta testing (click here to apply) is Voice Access. As its name suggests this new accessibility feature (and that is what it is being developed as, immediately distinguishing it from previous speech recognition apps) allows complete access to your device through voice alone. I’ll let Google describe it: “Voice Access is an accessibility service that lets you control your Android device with your voice. Using spoken commands, you can activate on-screen controls, launch apps, navigate your device, and edit text. Voice Access can be helpful for users for whom using a touch screen is difficult.” It certainly sounds promising and if these aspirations can be realised will be very welcome indeed. Voice control of mobile devices is something we are frequently asked about in Enable Ireland’s Assistive Technology Training Service. I’ll post more on Voice Access after I’ve had the opportunity to test it a bit more. In the meantime take a look at the video below to whet your appetite.

Another alternative access option now available to Android users is a third party application developed and promoted by CREA with the support of Fundación Vodafone España called EVA Facial Mouse. EVA Facial Mouse has been created by the same people who brought us Enable Viacam for Windows and Linux and seems to be a mobile version of that popular and effective camera input system. EVA uses a combination of the front facing camera and face recognition to allow the user position the cursor and click on icons without having to touch the device. See video below for more on EVA (Spanish with subtitles)

Reviews of EVA on Google Play are mostly positive with many negative reviews most probably explained by device specific incompatibilities. This remains the primary difficulty associated with the use and support of Android based devices as Assistive Technology. All Android devices are not created equally and how they handle apps can vary significantly depending on the resources they have available (CPU/RAM) and how Android features (pointing device compatibility in this case) are implemented. That said, on the right device both new access options mentioned above could mean greatly improved access efficiency for two separate user groups who have up until now had to rely primarily on switch access. Next week I will release a post reviewing current Android phones and follow that up with a couple of in-depth reviews of the above apps and their compatibility with selected Android devices and other third party AT apps like ClickToPhone.

Tobii Power Clinic Online Webinars

TobiiDynavox the AAC arm of Tobii Group, industry leading eye gaze/tracking solutions manufacturer, are currently producing a series of webinars on their range of products. Although they have completed 8 webinars to date they are all recorded and available on Youtube and the Power Clinic Online page. Taken together these are a fantastic resource for anybody interested in EyeGaze input. While some are product specific (for example “Getting Started With Communicator“) others are more general and will have content of interest to both therapists and technicians working in the area (Amazing Calibrations for EyegazeAAC and Autism – Strategies for challenging behaviour & EyeGaze Strategies for Reading!).

Tobii users, especially those new to the technology will be particularly interested in Eyegaze Windows Control for beginners! and Advanced Windows Control (eyegaze). If you rather the live experience make sure to sign up for next weeks webinar AAC AND MUSIC (PERFECT SYMPHONY) and you will be able to ask questions and contribute to the discussion.

We have created a playlist of all the Tobii Webinars to date on our Youtube channel if that makes it easier for you to access and share them (Click here)

Assistive Technology (AT) in the era of the Digital Schoolbag

child using tablet computer to study biology- zooming in on screen on mid section of human skeleton

Increasingly schools are opting for what is sometimes termed a digital schoolbag. This involves the purchase of an electronic device, usually an iPad with a package of digital textbooks pre-installed. Digital textbooks are undoubtedly a step in the right direction in terms of accessibility and are indeed essential for many students with disabilities. There are students however who may need to use a different platform (hardware and/or operating system – OS) because of compatibility issues with their Assistive Technology. Currently the most popular platform being adopted by schools is Apple iOS with parents being directed to purchase an iPad from a contracted supplier. Many readers of this article will be well aware of all the great inbuilt accessibility features within iOS however if you are a user of Eye Gaze or Speech Recognition (for access) it does not currently support your chosen AT.

It is understandable why from a school’s perspective having all students using identical standardised devices would be preferable and there are plenty of reasons why Apple iOS would be the obvious choice. There is a concern however that the small minority who may need to use other platforms because of access difficulties could be put at a disadvantage or perhaps not be able to participate fully in all activities. One of the leading school suppliers have assured us that the textbooks can be accessed on Windows, iOS and Android and as these textbooks are sourced from the same few publishers one can assume this applies for all suppliers. It is therefore up to the schools to ensure all lessons utilizing technology are identical whenever possible; equivalent when not, regardless of the device/platform you are using. Parents, particularly those whose children use Assistive Technology should not feel pressured by schools to purchase technology that isn’t the optimum for their child’s needs. If a therapist or AT specialist has recommended a particular solution that differs from what is being suggested by the school, the priority should obviously be the students’ needs. When it comes to AT it is the school’s responsibility to accommodate the different needs of its student, just as it was before the digital schoolbag. The use of technology within our schools is to be embraced but it is important that schools ensure that the curriculum is open and in no part dependent on one particular platform or device. That would just see us swapping one form of inequality for another and that’s not progress.

If anyone would like advice on what technologies are available to support access, literacy and productivity on any platform they should feel free to contact us here in the National Assistive Technology Service in Sandymount, Dublin.

ORACLE AND EDF OFFER A SCHOLARSHIP TO A STUDENT WITH DISABILITY

computer user siting on letter e

APPLY BY 15/09/2016
EDF and the company Oracle are pleased to announce a scholarship of 8.000 EUR to a student with disability of a high education programme studying in the field of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the academic year of 2016-2017. It will be awarded based on a project or thesis that will be conducted during the academic year. The project or thesis should take into account the needs of persons with disabilities in terms of accessibility to ICT, and/or an innovative solution to enhance their access. How can you apply? Find more information on EDF’s website.

Applications to be sent by 15 September 2016.
If you have any questions, please write an email to: eaccessibility.scholarship@edf-feph.org.
DFI is a member of the European Disability Forum. The European Disability Forum (EDF), is the umbrella organisation representing 80 million persons with disabilities in Europe.
EDF have partnered with Oracle and have announced an e-Accessibility scholarship

Setting up an inclusive internet café/computer hub

internet cafe with disabled users

If you are considering setting up a computer hub, internet café it’s essential to consider the people who will be using it.  It’s a great way to share ICT resources but they need to be inclusive so all can benefit from it.

As these computers are generally shared, you are likely to have different individuals of various abilities using them at each session. With lots of variations of both keyboard and mouse styles you may ask the question “how do I set the computer hub/internet café up so that it will be inclusive for all to use?”  Certain keyboards or mice may be suitable for some but not ideal for others!

There is a good argument for keeping the standard computer keyboard and mouse setup on most of your computers, as for the majority the standard setup may work well.  Also a standard computer keyboard and mouse is what will be already familiar to many.

It’s hard to make general recommendations for specific groups of users as every individual will have their own different needs and preference for using particular technologies.  It’s best to be equipped with a range of alternative keyboards and mice or other solutions.  Then whenever anyone experience problems you have to tools to go through alternative options with the individual user.  As you get to know the users you could leave some computers with a particular setup.

Some examples of alternative options you could consider are below.

Accessibility features

If a user has difficulty with a standard keyboard or mouse there are a number of changes that you can make to make them more accessible.  Accessible features are available on most desktop/laptop PCs.  They are built-into the operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, OS X, and on Linux based operating systems.

On Microsoft Windows the accessibility features are located within the Ease of Access Centre.  It’s very worthwhile to consider these tools within the Ease of Access Centre first, as there are many useful features that adapt the way the keyboard or mouse will work without the need of additional hardware.  For the keyboard there are features such as Sticky Keys, Toggle Keys, or Filter Keys and for your mouse you can change the pointer size, pointer speed or turn on Mouse Keys to use your keypad to move the mouse.  There are also options to make the content easier to see on your screen, such as Magnifier or high contrast mode, etc.  Try playing with the features to see the effect it produces.

On windows 10 to get into these options select the Start button, then select Settings, then Ease of Access

Windows 10 Ease of Access instructions

If you have an older Windows based operating systems see Windows 7 Ease of Access instructions

 

Alternative Keyboard

Keyboard Stickers

If a user finds it hard to see the letters and symbols on the keyboard then keyboard stickers may provide a solution.  However, on a regularly used keyboard these stickers may come off over time.

Keyboard sticker being placed on keyboard

They are available from a range of online sources.  One supplier can be found here

Hi-visibility keyboard

Hi-visibility keyboards can be similar to regular keyboards apart for the extra-large or high contrast symbols on the keyboard keys.   They offer a solution for users with a visual impairment and may be a better option than keyboard stickers.  Again there are various online sources.  The following is an example which is a relatively low cost standard layout keyboard with extra-large text on the keys.

keyboard with hi visibility keys

http://www.inclusive.co.uk/hi-visibility-keyboard-p2020

Compact Keyboard

Compact keyboards are like standard keyboards with the Number pad section taken away.  They have the benefit that they have a reduced number of keys and they allow you to have the mouse closer to the user which can be good for users who have a restricted hand reach.  The compact keyboard below can also be supplied with a keyguard.

Compact keyboard with standard size keys

http://www.inclusive.co.uk/compact-keyboard-with-guard-and-rest-p2005

Keyguard

A “keyguard” will allow the user to rest their hand on the keyboard and target the keypress to a single key.  May be suitable for someone who needs to support their hand so that they can press a single key on the keyboard at a time. They can typically be detached from the keyboard when required.

A person using a keyguard on keyboard

 Bigkeys Keyboards

BigKeys keyboards have lettering about 1/2 inch tall on the large keys.  They also tend to have a more simplified layout and reduced number of keys.  They are suited to people who do not have the fine motor hand control for a standard keyboard or for those who need a much more simplified keyboard layout. However these keyboards are not suitable for touch typing.

Bigkeys keyboard with black text on white keys

https://www.bigkeys.com/

http://www.keyboardco.com/keyboard/startaboard-large-key-white-lower-case-legends-black-keyboard.asp

 

ABC layout

As well as the QWERTY keyboard layout there is the option of an ABC layout.  For a new computer user it will be an easier way to learn the layout of the keyboard, however the user may come to rely on this layout which will make it difficult to go another computer which doesn’t have a similar keyboard layout.  For someone continually struggling with finding the keys this may be a suitable option.

keyboard withe ABC layout

 

Learn Touch typing

The benefits of gaining touch typing skills should not be underestimated.  As well as significantly improve your typing speed, touch typing teaches you to rely on motor memory freeing you up to direct your focus on the screen instead of the keyboard.  You can also adopt a more healthy posture, provide increased comfort and reduce the risk of injury.  There are many good free and commercial typing tutors available.

 

Alternative mouse

As for the computer mouse, again finding what suits the individual user is necessary.  That may be using the standard mouse, or making adjustments on the Ease of Access Centre or using some of the mouse alternatives below.

Trackball

Trackball mice stay in one place and save you valuable desk space.  The Kensington Orbit Optical Trackball is a nice low cost option. There are many trackball variations, some are even build into keyboards.  May be suitable for someone who has a limited hand reach.

Alternative to the standard mouse Kensington Orbit Optical Trackball

http://www.inclusive.co.uk/kensington-orbit-optical-trackball-p2412

Joysticks

With a joysticks it can be harder to control the mouse pointer compared to using a standard mouse, however if someone has a significant physical disability, it may provide a good option.

Inclusive Technology have sourced a range of various options that are worth considering.

Point It joysticks mice

http://www.inclusive.co.uk/hardware/mouse-alternatives/joysticks

Mouse and Keyboard combined

There are also combined keyboard and mice options that allow mouse and keyboard control within a compact area which may be suitable for a user with limited reach.

Rapoo wireless touch keyboard

Such as the Rapoo Wireless Touch Keyboard

Software options.

Voice Recognition

Voice recognition can be a really effective way to input text.  It requires knowing exactly what you need to type before saying it, which can be hard.  It doesn’t work for everyone and there is a steep learning curve with this software.

http://goo.gl/sOsm9U

Eldy

Eldy is software that turns any standard PC into an easy-to-use computer for people that have never used a computer before.
Provides into an easy six buttons interface email, Internet, chat, videoconferencing, documents, pictures, skype. Free Download

http://www.eldy.eu/en/

Word prediction

Similar to predictive text on a mobile phone, word prediction is also available for typing text on computers.  The software program works in the background and “predicts” the words the user intends to type.   Can help users who have slow typing speeds, poor spelling or have limited vocabulary.  Some commonly used predictive text program are below.

https://www.texthelp.com/en-us/products/read-and-write-family

http://donjohnston.com/cowriter/

http://www.penfriend.biz/

 

Tablets

If you have tablets in your internet cafe/computer hub bear in mind keyboards and mice can be connected to tablets.

For  iOS (e.g. iPad device)

You can connect a Bluetooth keyboard but not a mouse.

For Android

You can connect either a mouse or keyboard. To connect a USB device to your Android device, you’ll need a USB on-the-go cable. A USB OTG cable is an adapter that plugs into the Micro-USB port on your device and allows you to connect full-size USB peripherals. Important Note: Not every Android device supports peripherals with a USB OTG cable.  When you connect a mouse to your Android tablet you get a mouse cursor.  Keyboards can also be connected via Bluetooth.

Here are a range of suppliers below.

Supliers

http://www.kos.ie/

http://www.rjcooper.com/big-blue-tooth-keyboard/index.html

http://www.inclusive.co.uk/

http://www.keyboardco.com/keyboard/startaboard-large-key-white-lower-case-legends-black-keyboard.asp

http://www.click2go.ie/category/products/pointit-joysticks/

http://www.penfriend.biz/

http://donjohnston.com

https://www.texthelp.com

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.

Smartbox Study day in Dublin

A Smartbox Live event showing the audienceSmartbox have some very useful assistive technology products within communication, environment control and computer control. They have recently launched their Grid3 software which has continued to improve over the years, enabling many people with disabilities an alternative method to control their computer or to even communicate.
The Smartbox team will be taking to the road; bringing their developments in the world of AAC and assistive technology to venues across the UK and Ireland.

Next study day is:

Dublin – Friday, 6 November at Crowne Plaza Hotel
Everyone is welcome
Registration: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/smartbox-assistive-technology-6787601933