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.

Wearable hands-free mice

Wearable hands-free mice allow full control of mouse functions without the use of hands. They can be used to access a computer (Windows, Mac, etc.), as well as a tablet or smartphone (Android, iOS)

Primary users of these technologies are or cervical spinal cord injury.

There are various options for hands-free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, lip and chin joysticks, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  One other possible group of devices are wearable hands-free mice.  With this approach, you wear a sensor (usually on your head but can be worn elsewhere if that works better for you) and as you move, the motion of that sensor controls the mouse cursor.

There is no camera or other optical unit involved, so you do not have to maintain a direct line-of-sight to the computer, and the performance is independent of lighting conditions.

The GlassOuse and the Zono are wireless, requiring no physical connection between the sensor unit that you wear and the computer that you are controlling. They both have perhaps the most thorough and refined designs in this family.

 The GlassOuse package is worn like eyeglasses (but without anything in front of the eye).  It weighs about 50g. GlassOuse also supplies a range of switches that can be used to perform the mouse click such as bite, puff or a proximity switch. 

The Zono is more of a headphone-style mount for its sensor, and also has several alternative ways to wear the sensor, such as an eyeglass clip.  The Zono can be used with a breath or puff switch so you can click by blowing lightly on the switch sensor.

The EnPathia and eeZee sensors require that the mouse must be tilted, not rotated, to move the cursor. So the motion used will be quite different in the head-controlled case; to move right, you would tilt your right ear toward your right shoulder, instead of rotating your head to the right. This is a less intuitive and more difficult movement for many people.  Finally, an open-source option is the Headmouse by Millmore with build instructions available on instructables.com

Some wearable hands-free mice options to consider are

GlassOuse V1.2 €499

GlassOuse V1.2 mouse with bite switch
User with GlassOuse V1.2 mouse with bite switch

Quha Zono £550

EnPathia €227

EnPathia mouse worn on the users head
EnPathia mouse worn on the users head

eeZee Switch  $599

eeZee Switch on frame of glasses
eeZee Switch on frame of glasses

ED Air Mouse

ED Air Mouse with switches
ED Air Mouse with switches

Head Mouse by Millmore <€50

Millmore testing his Head Mouse
Millmore testing his Head Mouse

Video of user using a wearable mouse

The good:  These hands-free options can potentially have precise control and are not affected by lighting or sound.

The not so good: Commercial options are expensive.

The verdict: If you need or want the ability to make very fine cursor control, and you are happy to wear a sensor, then these wearable mice are a good option for hands-free control.

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

IkeaThisAbles – Accessibility hacks that transform many pieces of Ikea furniture

IkeaThisAbles Accessibility hacks

IkeaThisAbles, is a project dedicated to making Ikea furniture available for everybody, including people with disabilities.

The ThisAbles project was conceived to allow people with special needs to enjoy the quality of life provided by IKEA products.

As part of IKEA’s vision to “create a better everyday life for as many people as possible”, they joined forces with the non-profit organizations Milbat and Access Israel, that specialize in creating special solutions for populations with special needs and disabilities, and developed a new line of products that bridge some of the gaps between existing IKEA products and the special needs of people belonging to these populations.

The project allows anyone to 3D print a range of add-ons that simply and easily convert Ikea furniture and accessories into disability-friendly products.   Now people with disabilities from any corner of the world can print add-ons in their nearest 3D printing shop.

For more information

Website: https://thisables.com/en

The good:   The website offers any user to describe a problem that they have and Ikea will try to find a convenient solution.

The not so good: At the moment there is a limited range of product add-ons

The verdict: Interesting project idea that more manufacturers should adopt

Autism Awareness Day

Today is World Autism Awareness Day (2nd April), and throughout this week and month, there are a number of events and promotions happening to highlight this.  The theme this year is focusing on Assistive Technology and we’ve rounded up some related items below with promotions and discounts that are running to celebrate this week, and hope some prove useful!

Lidl have a range of products on offer this week including sensory toys and gadgets. Two of the most popular items are bound to be noise cancelling ear defenders and a LED nightlight projector, to aid with sensory processing and reducing stressors. In conjunction with their Autism Friendly Quiet Evening, Lidl are leading the way in providing an inclusive environment.  More information can be found at www.lidl.ie/en/special-offers.htm?id=767 .

Assistiveware, a company that specialise in apps for iOS devices are running a 50% off promotion until the 5th April 2019 on all their AAC apps, including the ever popular Proloquo2Go and Pictello. Check out www.assistiveware.com/blog/autism-acceptance-month-discount for more.

Avaz are doing a similar promotion, 50% off the popular Avaz AAC app that is available in a variety of languages, and for iOS as well as Android. Available until the 7th April, click on the link for more: www.avazapp.com/autism-acceptance-month-2019 .

LAMP: Words for Life, from Liberator, is also available at a 50% discount until the 6th April. Using a motor planning approach and utilising the extensive research into semantic compaction vocabulary arrangement, this is a comprehensive communication application. The discount has already been applied to the price in the App store www.itunes.apple.com/gb/developer/liberator-ltd/id580721039

CoughDrop are offering 50% off a lifetime subscription to their communication app, until the 5th April. A|s well as being available for iOS and Android, this open source product can also be used on a web browser or Windows platform.  www.app.mycoughdrop.com?ref=fb

Snap + Core First are offering a 15% discount until the 15th April. For Winsows and iOS platforms, this app uses a core and fringe vocabulary layout to provide access to a wide vocabulary. More information can be found at www.tobiidynavox.com/products/software

Pyramid Education Consultants, the company behind the PECS apps are offering a variety of discounts on their apps, including the PECS III and PECS IV+ for the entire month of April. Visit https://pecs-unitedkingdom.com/apps/ for more information on these and other apps.

Recently launched, the website www.autismservicesireland.com aims to provide families with a one stop shop to find professionals specialising in the area, from home tutors to therapists.

Pen Reader for students with dyslexia

Pen Reader a tool designed with students with dyslexia in mindA few weeks ago, we attended a demonstration of the C-Pen Reader, a tool designed with students with dyslexia in mind. This device, with its pen shape and an OLED screen with text to speech output, assists those with literacy difficulties to read.

It is a simple to use device, whereby the reader runs the tip of the pen over the word or words that they wish to hear spoken aloud.  Using realistic speech synthesiser software, the student can hear the text read aloud by the inbuilt speaker or by using ear phones.

There is also the option, when a single word is scanned, to hear an Oxford English dictionary definition of the word, and to have the word magnified on screen, useful for those who may have visual impairments.

There is also the option to scan and save text to the internal storage in the pen and transfer to a PC or Mac computer for use later, a handy option for those who may not have access to a scanner.

While there is a separate version of the pen available, the ExamReader, with limited functionality (i.e. no internal storage or dictionary features) that will meet the criteria for State Exams, the standard pen can be turned into an ExamReader by choosing a locked mode.

The C-Pen also works in French and Spanish, while the ExamReader can read German and Italian in addition. There is also the ability to record voice notes on the C-Pen.

While there are many differing options, both hardware and app based, available for those with literacy difficulties or using English as a second language requiring text to speech functionality, the C-pen has its niche market in the education sector where the use of mobile phone apps or bulky hardware may make the use of text to speech difficult or impossible. The c-pen is a user-friendly option that is easily transportable and can be personalised.

More information can be found at www.readerpen.com, and schools and colleges can arrange for a free trial for their students. The  C-pen costs €225 ex VAT.

Apps for Adults with Autism

mobile phone with icons around the phone

For adults with Autism spectrum disorders/conditions, there are a number of apps available, on iOS, Android and web-based platforms, that can assist with daily life, including work, study etc. Below is a list of some that we have come across, and found to be beneficial.

Developing habits/routines

Name/Icon Description, Link Price
HabitRPG Habit building and productivity app that uses gamification to motivate. Collect points for completing good habits and avoiding bad habits.

iOS and Android

www.habitica.com

Free to download, in app purchases

Routinely

Establish, track, understand, and be more mindful of your daily routine. Set goals for each of the tasks and habits that make up your day, and then track your completion of those goals. Can send you notifications to remind you to complete your goals, and provides a history view to review past days.

iOS only

www.appadvice.com/app/routinely-track-your-daily-routine/1135990298

Free to download
Todoist Acts as a checklist, organiser, calendar, reminder and habit forming app. Can be shared with others for joint projects, integrated with other apps such as Dropbox and Alexa.

iOS and Android

www.todoist.com

Free, premium versions available.
Work Autonomy Designed to assist with person-generated communication with coworkers and supervisors regardless of linguistic or cognitive skill, tracking task analysis and work schedules independently, and allowing access to concrete information about work expectations, production etc.

iOS only

www.ableopps.com/work-autonomy

Paid, app, approximately €190

Mood trackers

MoodPanda Track your moods using graphs and calendars. Community aspect to offer support and advice

iOS, Android and web

www.moodpanda.com

T2 Mood Tracker Designed to help users track their emotions over time. It comes with six pre-installed areas, including Anxiety, Depression, Well-Being, and Stress. Users can also add and customize additional scales.

iOS and Android

www.psyberguide.org

Managing Over Stimulation

Miracle Modus Designed to help with sensory overload, by providing strong visual stimuli that move in predictable patterns.

iOS and Android

www.seebs.net/modus/

Free
Dropophone Create minimalist melodies for relaxation purposes

iOS only

www.lullatone.com/games/dropophone-app/

Free
Sensory apps Range of sensory apps to help with relaxation and overstimulation.

#iOS, Androd, Web, Chrome

www.sensoryapphouse.com

 

Free
Relax Melodies Melody and white noise app.

iOS and Android

www.ipnos.com

 

Free to download, in app purchases

Relaxation/mediation

Headspace A meditation and mindfulness app. Designed to guide the user through narrated sessions to focus on relaxation and help cope with stress and anxiety.

iOS, Android and online

www.mindspace.com

Free

Please do let us know if you have come across others!

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

 

 

Soundscape

A line drawing representing a user using directional cue guiding towards a set destination

Microsoft Soundscape is an app providing directional information and description of surroundings to Blind/Vision Impaired users through spatial 3D sound.

 

 

Link to Microsoft Soundscape webpage 

Using Open Street Mapping, a number of customisable features facilitate discovery and interaction with surroundings.

  • My Location – explore current location and direction of travel, nearby points of interest, street names and intersections.
  • Audio Beacon – a directional cue guiding towards a set destination.
  • Markers – tagging customisable locations, and allowing users to orient in relation to previously saved markers.
  • Additional function buttons to explore multiple points of interest “Around Me” or “Ahead of Me”.

Although not a Wayfinding app itself, Soundscape can be used in tandem with a navigational app, giving additional layers of information while still providing walking directions.

Personalisations within the app include an option to toggle between male or female voice and either metric or imperial units of distance measurement.

It must be noted that as the app relies on 3D sound, usage of stereo headphones is imperative.

My usage preference would be a Bluetooth Bone Conducting headset, ensuring that ambient sounds are not obstructed. The control buttons on the headset would also allow for hands-free access to toggle functions within the app. Potentially a useful tool to aid navigation for independent travel, Soundscape could allow me to reach frequently visited locations with better accuracy while informing me of surroundings in unfamiliar spaces.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Soundscape is not currently available to the Irish market, however, I eagerly await the release date.

Ever thought about using your wheelchair joystick to send an e mail or turn on your lights?

BJlive BJoy ring controlling a mobile phone

It is easy for someone to assume that their wheelchair can only be used for driving.  However, wheelchair manufacturers have developed their products in recent years and considered the needs of the user such as the need to also interact with their mobile phone, PC or even a TV.  As well as the basic chair functions such as driving or controlling the actuators these electronic systems can also enable control of a computer or portable devices and so the integration of environmental controls is possible on most power wheelchairs. The same controls that the user drives the power wheelchair with, typically a joystick, can also be used to control an appliance within their environment.  Another benefit of integrating control of other devices within the wheelchair joystick is that it may help to ensure the user maintains a good posture while operating other devices.

All of the main wheelchair controller manufacturers have Bluetooth mouse options, including Dynamics Controls with their Linx controller, Curtis instrument’s quantum q-logic controller, and Curtiss-Wright – Rnet controls.

CJSM2 bluetooth power wheelchair JoystickFor example for chairs with R-net controls you can replace the old joystick with a CJSM2 –BT as seen in the picture here.  This R-net Joystick Module has Infra-Red (IR) capabilities included. IR technology is widely used to remotely control household devices such as TVs, DVD players, and multi-media systems, as well as some home-automation equipment. Individual IR commands can be learned from an appliance’s remote handset and stored in the CJSM2.  Also Integrated Bluetooth technology is an option, to enable control of computers, Android tablets, iPads, iPhones and other smart devices from a powered wheelchair. To switch between the devices, the user simply navigates the menu and selects the device they wish to control.  The R-net’s CJSM2 can easily replace the existing rnet joystick module, with no system re-configuration or programming required.

Although not all power wheelchairs can be fitted with Bluetooth mouse-enabled joysticks, there are some good alternatives that may still work.  The BJoy ring is a sensor that can be fitted to most wheelchair joysticks where deflections of the joystick can be translated to mouse movements picked up on a Bluetooth mouse receiver placed on a tablet or PC.

  • The good: Users can do many daily tasks using one device
  • The not so good: This capability is only available on high spec wheelchair systems.
  • The verdict: Using a wheelchair joystick that is Bluetooth enabled will ensure the user maintains a good posture while operating their other devices.