You know a particular technology is fast approaching mainstream when every manufacturer seems to be developing add-ons to make their products work with it.
From Samsung’s SmartThings to August Smart Home Locks, 3rd-party developed skills are voice experiences that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo). For example “Alexa, set the Living Room lights to warm white” or “Alexa, lock the front door.” These skills are available for free download. Skills are continuously being added to increase the capabilities available to the user.
he Amazon Echo is a smart speaker developed by Amazon. It is tall cylinder speaker with a built-in microphone. The device connects to the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service Alexa, which answers to the name “Alexa”. The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real-time information
However, it can also control many smart devices using itself as a home automation hub.
The videos below give an example of using your voice with smart home products. https://youtu.be/V7WfxI3ecVI https://youtu.be/pH8fg1noIj0
The good: As far as price goes, the Amazon Echo comes in various forms, the
Amazon Echo Dot costs £44.99 which seems affordable. All the Amazon skills that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device are free.
The not so good: Requires internet connection to work. If your internet goes down then your ability to control the devices around you also does too.
The verdict: A good way to dip your toe in the Internet of Things waters, more capabilities on the way.
It’s hard to beat the quality of mounting equipment offered by mounting suppliers such as Dassey or Rehadapt or even mainstream suppliers like Ram Mounts. These mounting systems are designed to keep your hardware safe, made to last and they look good.
However, these mounting solutions also tend to be expensive and may be far from the budget of a user who may just require a second mount to take here and there with them.
There are many options for low-cost mounts that still provide the function of holding your phone or tablet so you can use it effectively.
Many low-cost mounts can be found on Amazon, eBay or even bought from supermarket chains such as Aldi or Lidl. So it’s worth keeping an eye out as some of these products sell for as little as a few euro.
An example of mount recently bought from Lidl for €4. It comprises of a spring loaded cradle, goose neck and spring loaded clamp. Although it will not take excessive pressure, but it works quite well for holding a phone at eye level for light touch screen use.
Just when we thought 2016 couldn’t get any better (in an AT sense) BBC make a prime time TV show with a huge focus on the design and construction of bespoke AT solutions. Although aired in December on BBC due to regional restrictions it’s not available to many on this side of the Irish Sea on iPlayer so you may not have had the chance to see full episodes yet. The good news is full episodes are beginning to make their way onto YouTube and are well worth a look. The general theme of the Big Life Fix would be how technology has the power to improve lives. Although not just about what we call assistive technology, it is more broad in scope covering many different types of technology challenge with the goal of democratising and demystifying solutions. AT does play a big part in many of the challenges however.
The first episode (a clip of which I’ve embedded below) introduces us to James, a young photographer who is having difficulty operating his SLR camera. The solution created for James features all the exciting technology and techniques being utilised every day by Makers around the world: Arduino microprocessor, 3D printing, AppInventor as well as some good old fashioned hardware hacking. The iterative nature of the design process is well illustrated with James critically evaluating the initial prototype and providing insights which significantly change the direction of the design.The other AT related challenge in this first episode features a graphic designer called Emma who due to tremors which are a symptom of her Parkinson’s, is unable to draw or sign her name. After a number of prototypes and lots of research a very clever solution is arrived at which seems to be extremely effective, leading to a rather emotional scene (have the hankies ready).
The Big Life Fix beautifully portrays both the potential of AT to improve the quality of life as well as the personal satisfaction a maker might get from participating in a successful solution. I can see this show sowing the seeds for a strong and equitable future for assistive technology.
At the recent Disabled Drivers Motor Show & Conference 2016 in Dublin, there were a range of companies showing interesting products that would make you believe that driving is open to much more people that you may think.
Driving your own car does have its benefits. The main one being that you have reliable transportation to get to your job, school or to do other various activities. You will also have space to hold your items and will be protected from the weather. For anyone with a disability or drivers who are experiencing changes in their vision, flexibility, strength, or range of motion there are various alterations that you can make that will optimize your driving performance and safety.
Anyone looking to add adaptive vehicle devices to their vehicle will benefit from a driving assessment. Typically an occupational therapist will recommend equipment and a Vehicle Adaptor.
Choosing the right vehicle is important as small differences in the shape and size of such things as doors or seats can make a big difference to how easy it is to get in and out of a particular car.
The Drivers and Passengers with Disabilities – Tax relief scheme are open to persons who meet the specified medical criteria. Relief in respect of Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) and Value Added Tax (VAT) may be obtained.
People may require their vehicles to be modified in order for them to drive or to be carried as a passenger. Adaptations can be made to a vehicle to meet the needs of drivers and passengers with disabilities.
Diver adaptations that are frequently fitted include:
Hand Controls which allow people to operate the accelerator and brake pedals with their hands
Hand controls for accelerator and brake.
There are a range of hand controls to suit the needs of the driver. Such as standard push pull hand controls radial hand controls and the carospeed hand controls which can incorporate the auxiliary switches and cruise control.
The Brig-Ayd Electric Trigger Throttle and Brake Hand control is a push/pull hand control system. It allows users to control the throttle via a trigger incorporated in the handle of the controls, with just a few grams of force. The brake is operated by pushing the handle down; this gives light and responsive control of the vehicles brakes.
Guidosimplex Mechanical brakes
This Guidosimplex Long Arm Brake Lever allows the driver to apply breaks to the vehicle. Manufactured from aluminium and coated with embossed rubber, the brake lever is also fitted with buttons which activate both the horn and a locking system.
Guidosimplex Gas Ring
The Guidosimplex Over Ring provides a light acceleration control. The accelerator ring can be fitted to most vehicles. A simple push to accelerate, allows both hands to be kept on the steering wheel while driving. Quick Release version also available. Does not compromise steering wheel airbag.
Also an under ring version mounted directly underneath the steering well. This solution allows the end user to accelerate by simply performing a rotary movement (Clockwise and/or Anticlockwise) whilst keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
Guidosimplex Hand Held acceleration system
The Guidosimplex Satellite provides another option for vehicle acceleration. It is suitable to be fitted to most vehicles and is offered in either fully electronic or electro-mechanical versions. Since the unit is hand-held, all functions, such as air bag and secondary controls mounted on the steering wheel, are retained for use. The power to the Satellite accelerator is also cut when the brake is applied.
Adapted controls that facilitate the use of gear stick, hand brakes and car keys
Push Button Start
Not every Car model comes with Push Button Technology so for drivers who may find it difficult to use an engine key start, this simple push button start facility can be fitted.
For assistance selecting Drive, Park or Reverse with an Automatic Gear Shifter, then a personalized modification to suit a particular needs can be fitted.
Left foot accelerators which facilitate people who cannot use their right leg
Steering balls which facilitate steering wheel grip
There is a wide range of steering aids to suit all vehicles and also the needs of the driver. The steering aids range from a standard steering ball through to a steering aid that incorporates an infra-red system which allows the user to operate the auxiliary switches such as lights wipers of the vehicle from the steering aid. The steering aids can be used independently or in conjunction with driver hand controls.
Brig-Ayd Controls Ltd is the manufacturer and suppliers of a range of quick release steering aids for use by disabled drivers. These steering aids can be used in conjunction with hand controls or on their own to aid the steering control of cars, vans, and trucks. The design incorporates a simple to use release mechanism that can be operated with one hand to remove or refit the handle section of the device to the steering wheel. They are designed to fit modern wheels and do not affect the operation of the vehicle’s airbag. These steering knobs come with a range of grips such as a ball, mushroom, tee, and peg.
For drivers with a higher level of physical disability, a variety of high-tech adaptations are now available which include joysticks for braking and accelerating.
Passenger adaptations included:
Autoadapt Swivel Base
The Autoadapt swivel base in conjunction with the original vehicle seat. It can also be used with the BEV, Compact and Recaro seat. The swivel comes as either manual or electrical operation.
The Turnout is a swivel seat designed for those who find it difficult to enter a vehicle or make a transfer from the wheelchair. Installed as a layer between the vehicle’s floor and the car seat the Turnout enables the car seat to be rotated facing outwards.
Passenger lifts and chair hoists
Carolift 40 Boot Hoist
The carolift 40 Boot Hoist is suitable for most standard self-propelling wheelchairs. The flexible elbow joint on the boom allows the user to lift the wheelchair from the pavement and by bending the boom allow the wheelchair to be put into a narrow boot opening. The carolift can then be stored by lying the hoist down or by making it quick release.
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.
Motor Show and Conference will take place in the RDS, Dublin on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th September 2016.
This event provides the opportunity to discover everything you need to know about motoring with limited mobility. You will be able to view a wide range of cars, wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV’s), the latest adaptations and the various associated products and services available to people with limited mobility.
In addition, the conference will cover key topics including recent changes to the Disabled Drivers and Passengers Tax Relief Scheme, Changes to the Fuel Grant Scheme, Vehicle Finance and Adaptations available. Open to all and admission is FREE.
For further information visit www.ddmotorshow.ie
I am a C4 spinal injured person with full quadraplegia for the last 34 years. Over this timespan some of my assistive technology has remained the same and stands the test of of time. But I’ve also adopted useful new tools over the years as computer hardware and software developed.
I was 18 when my spinal injury happened. After rehab I went to Rosyln Park college and studied office subjects, payroll, accounting, word processing and office software usage. While office administration would not be my primary interest, it is something that I can do despite quadriplegia. At that time used a chin strapped pointer for computer keyboard usage.
Headpointer available from Jackson Technology, Waterford. http://www.assistireland.ie/eng/Products_Directory/Communication/Writing/Pointers/Zygo_Head_Pointers.html
After I finished in Rosyln Park I subsequently got a FAS scheme based office job in Cheshire Ireland where I converted the office tasks to computer based. This developed into a full-time job in payroll based in Sandyford. When I started initially, I continued to use the chin strap pointer for a while but wasn’t happy with it. A friend suggested a mouthstick might be more convenient and less cumbersome. Ever since then my mouthstick is my primary piece of assistive technology!
The mouthstick is a 5mm diameter thin piece wood dowelling, approximately 450mm long, with a 50mm piece of plastic tubing on the mouth end and a rubber tip on the end. I use it for keyboard entry, mouse app use, light switches, hands free phone and ebook reader use. I even have a second mouthstick for giving treats to my dog! Instead of a rubber tip this mouthstick has a point with which the stab small pieces of frankforter or cheese.
However the mouthstick has its limitations. It is a relatively slow but accurate method of typing. I find it particularly essential for working with numbers where accuracy is a priority. For more general text I use Nuace NaturallySpeaking, for example for emails and Word documents. NaturallySpeaking is a continually improving voice recognition application. I use it in conjunction with a wireless headset. This means that I am not tied to the computer with a wired headset. NaturallySpeaking also has extensive Windows usage commands built-in. I use it both at home and at work. The headset also facilitates me making and receiving phone calls over a VOIP soft phone application, as well as Skype.
As to other technology that I use, I use a mini cherry keyboard because that makes it easier to reach the left and right hand side compared to the standard keyboard.
For mouse usage, I use two separate input devices. I use a small device called Helpiclick made by a company called Helpicare. At work I use a numeric keypad in conjunction with the Windows accessibility feature to emulate mouse. Other Quadriplegic colleagues that I know use Eyegaze for mouse control as well is typing and find it excellent. I did try this application but found it very straining on my eyesight.
Outside of work, I very much enjoy reading. I struggled over many years with regular books, usually opting to get second-hand books which were easier to turn pages and keep open. With the advent of ebook readers, this has transformed my reading experience. I use a Kobo Auro H2O book reader because I’m not a fan of Amazon! This is an excellent e-reader which includes background lighting for evening or night time reading. I use it with my mouthstick, although I had to get mouthstick that conducts electricity. The e-book reader like tablet computers and smart phones requires capacitive touch. For able-bodied people they simply use their finger which has a tiny electrical current from the human body. Hence the need to use a conductive mouthstick. There are other e-book readers, such as the Sony e-book reader that will work with any pointing device. However the Kobo e-reader is slightly larger which I like. I am currently trying to get a technology student or university to link a voice recognition circuit to my e-reader so that I could say “next page” or “previous page”. This is an ongoing project as I write this blog.
With regard to my environment, I use a chin controlled wheelchair which gives me significant independence both in my own home and also out and about. In my home I have a number of door openers, including a card reader based door opener for the outside as well as a separate card reader for turning the house alarm on and off. I also have a remote control for turning on and off lights, but only really in my living room. I had more extensive assistive technology but found it very problematic and finally got rid of it, keeping only what is essential.
I also have a wall mounted desk at a 45° angle. This gives me full freedom of movement with my wheelchair underneath the desk and having my keyboard and e-reader at 45° makes it much easier to use.
While the various pieces of technology work pretty well for me on an ongoing basis, I try to stay informed about any novel technologies that come along which might improve my living experience. I would recommend everybody do the same.
The “Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities” initiative have pledged $20M in grants to 29 non-profit organizations. These organisations will use technology to expand opportunity and independence for people with disabilities. The grants are to help address accessibility challenges all over the world by bringing their projects to life. Each organization has also committed to open sourcing their technology.
Interesting projects such as solution to allow people with limited mobility to operate smartphones and 3D-printed custom footwear to allow people maintain the ability to walk.
My name is Christina, I’m twenty-five, and I’ve been blind since birth. Being born three months early can mess with a person’s retinas.
To say that technology Is important to me would be a massive understatement – I honestly wouldn’t have been able to manage in mainstream education without it.
However, My favourite and most useful technological advance isn’t new –
It‘s actually over 200 years old. It’s Braille.
In case you’re wondering, Braille is a system of reading and writing used by many blind people the world over. It’s made up of various combinations of a six-dot cells,
(think of the number six on a dice).
For me, Braille is my ink. Braille, Despite its age, has been built into new technology just like many other adaptations; For example, I’ve gone from using a Perkins Brailler, which is basically a typewriter with only six keys, to a Braille display, which converts the information on a computer screen into Braille (I’m not an engineer, so I don’t understand how that’s possible). You can even turn on a setting on an iPhone which allows you to type in Braille – that’s pretty good for a system that’s been around since 1809.
I’ve used Braille for everything since I was five – library books came through the door in big bags, like pizza delivery bags; they even had children’s magazines, which became teenage magazines. It didn’t matter that the title wasn’t exactly the same – the content was what mattered.
All through college, especially because I studied languages, Braille helped me hugely to learn spelling and grammar. If I want to remember something, I find the physical act of putting pen to paper, so to speak, helps me to memorise.
So to sum up, Braille is more important to me than all modern technology – because for me it’s part of every piece of modern technology.
We are frequently contacted in Enable Ireland AT service by people asking us to recommend accessible phones. It might be for a grandparent or parent, someone with cognitive or access difficulties or just people who like their technology simple and functional. The brand we usually recommend for simple accessible phones is Doro http://www.doro.ie. They have a range of phones on their website (pictured below) mostly standard or feature phones (rather than smartphones) based on the classic clam-shell and candy bar designs. Most mobile providers (I can confirm Vodafone and 3Mobile) offer at least one Doro as a prepay option however to get access to the full range you may need to buy an unlocked sim free device from an online retailer like Amazon. The smartphone in the picture below is not listed on the Irish Doro website but can be purchased unlocked online.
Customise an Android
Another option would be to customise an Android phone. There are a range of sub €100 smartphones available from all mobile carriers and while it is a truism that you get what you pay for with smartphones the quality gap between budget and premium has never been smaller. Use Google to search for reviews and lists of the best smartphones in your price range and check spec and reviews on GSMArena for the model you are interested in (don’t get too put off by user submitted comments on this site, almost always negative). Finally and most importantly go into a bricks and mortar shop and get a hands on.
Many older people (and younger people too!) have difficulty with touchscreens but to make them easier to use you can install a launcher app on Android phones. A launcher app will sit over the normal Android user interface, hiding as much of the complexity as you think appropriate. As your Granddad (or whoever the user is) gets used to the device you can give him other options like Internet or the Camera. Below are some Android launchers available on the Google Play store, many are specifically designed for older users and users with low vision. There are often free version available that are either supported by advertising or have limited functionality. It’s great to be able to test an app like this out before parting with money but be wary that those supported by advertising may lead to confusion, inappropriate content or even malware if the ad is clicked and so may not be appropriate for some users.
Wiser – Simple Launcher
Wiser – Simple Launcher (pictured above) looks like a very nicely designed interface that is simple yet manages to avoid the fisher-price type design trap that some others fall into.
Microsoft Windows Phone offers a very user friendly and customisable home screen. The tiles of the interface can be easily removed or enlarged offering easy access to only what is required. The main reason the Windows platform is less popular on mobile devices is the lack of apps available (this is changing) but this may not be an issue for this user group. If you want to take advantage of the nice Windows UI yet still use an Android based phone you could try Launcher 8. Of course you could just get the real thing and go for a Microsoft Lumia phone (pictured above).
Another difficulty faced by some users of touchscreen smartphones is using the on-screen keyboard. Fortunately there are a number of Android keyboard apps that offer assistance in this regard also.
If the user is a “hunt and peck” style typist Thick Buttons might work best. It enlarges the keys it thinks will most probably be used next. This makes the keyboard easier to use while at the same time offering subtle assistance to those who are unfamiliar with the QWERTY layout or with literacy difficulties.
Many users who find touchscreens difficult find using a stylus helps a great deal. If you are going to try this, choose a device with a large screen like a Galaxy Note or less expensive Asus. These large phones are often referred to as… wait for it… Phablets https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phablet (just to prove I didn’t make that up).
Voice Commands and Speech Recognition
Speech Recognition may not be an option for all users or it might be a bridge too far for some technophobes. If the initial fear is overcome however it is a very natural way of interacting with your device and is becoming more accurate every day. Android, iOS and Windows all offer digital personal assistants (Google Now, Siri and Cortana) that will allow you access many phone functions with voice alone. There are also apps that offer increased functionality in this area. Do a search for speech recognition on your app store of choice but stick with popular downloads and have a read through user comments before installing.