Many of us agree that eating is one of life’s pleasures. Sitting down to a delicious meal with cherished friends or family is as about as life-affirming as it gets but what happens if you have a difficulty in eating independently?
Luckily there are a number of products that can assist with eating. A new product called Obi works by automating the movement of the human arm, allowing the user to select food of their choice and dictate the pace at which the food is fed to them.
Obi allows the caregiver to quickly position the device for optimal use and modify the food delivery location for each user.
The Obi plate consists of 4 individual food compartments. The obi arm is controlled by two switches, one switch controls the compartment Obi picks up from and the other switch then picks up the food. The plate can be easily removed and cleaned and is also microwavable. Weighing just over 3 kilos and being equipped with a built-in rechargeable battery means that it can be taken anywhere
Dementia is a term which describes a range of conditions which cause damage to our brain. This damage affects memory, thinking, language and our ability to perform everyday tasks. Although technology may not fix someone’s deficits, it will give them a better quality of life and peace of mind for their family. Assistive technology can help support and enable people with conditions such as dementia to live more independently.
One of the most common technologies that can enable people with dementia to live more independently is a Pendant Alarm. The aim of the pendant alarm is to support an individual living independently by ensuring they are safe while alone. For example if they have a fall or any other major concern they can press the pendant to beckon help. The pendant is typically worn around the neck as a necklace or around the wrist as a watch. The pendant alarm can also signal the presence of a hazard requiring urgent attention, such as high smoke or a carbon monoxide levels, as various sensors can be linked to the pendent alarm system. These devices can be further linked to a Monitoring Centre that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. If a personal alarm or accompanying sensor is activated, a call is immediately alerted to the 24 hour Monitoring Centre where it will be answered by a trained telecare operator. The internal speaker and microphone on the Pendant Alarm will allow the operator to speak hands free with someone until help arrives. The operator will remain on the line until the situation has been resolved and they are satisfied that the person is back in good hands. In Ireland the cost of a Pendant alarm package is covered by a grant available under the Seniors Alert Scheme. This is open to those over the age of 65, and covers the cost of having a socially monitored alarm installed at home.
A Pendant to activate the alarm is worn around the neck or the wrist. Pendants can be subtle such as the Minute Watch which is discreet high quality watch that incorporates a personal alarm.
Once alarm is activated the centre is contacted which will allow the operator to speak hands free to the client.
Prompts and reminders
An individual with dementia over time may have a decrease in their ability to think and remember, they may need reminders to help them with their daily activities, such as making meals, feeding pets or taking their medication. There are various gadgets currently available which can provide prompts and reminders and generally, make their life a bit easier.
As most people are rarely without their mobile phone, setting up a reminder app could be a useful way to help them remember important things. Some apps worth trying include Wunderlist (free) which lets you create different lists for different topics. Another app which is also useful is called It’s Done!It’s Done is essentially an app that provides a checklist for life’s everyday critical tasks such as locking doors, feeding pets, taking medication, and turning off the stove. This allows you to go back and check your routine everyday tasks if you have forgotten.
If apps are not sufficient for an individual to remember to take their medication then there is the option of a Pill dispenser. Pills can be divided up into days, morning and evening and fitted into their own compartments. An alarm will sound when s/he need to take his pills. Some dispensers can be programmed to only release the set number of pills each time, locking away the rest until they’re needed.
If an individual struggles to remember people’s names, an app called Knome (free)can help by setting up profiles for people the person meets, including pictures and explanations of how they know them.
For those who occasionally misplaces items such as wallet or keys around the home, a key finder will help reduce frustration and disappointment.
The Object Locator is a gadget that offers a simplistic solution. The beepers can be attached to items with the key rings or with Velcro to handbags, or a glasses case. You just press the labelled remote control to activate a beeper.
Maintaining cognitive abilities
Studies have found that playing games which challenge people on reasoning and problem solving can help people over 60 to get on better with their daily activities. In 2006, the ACTIVE Study, funded by National Institute of Health, demonstrated that older adults could improve their brain abilities with the correct training. Certain mental exercises can partially offset the expected decline in older adults’ thinking skills and show promise for maintaining cognitive abilities needed to do everyday tasks.
Both sites feature a combination of cognitive games that are aimed at “exercising” the brain. The games challenge memory and attention by engaging the user in common cognitive and neuropsychological tasks.
Out and about
For individuals who may become lost in familiar places such as their own neighbourhood or village, the installation of a suitable route planner on a Smart Phone may be good idea. It will pick out the best way to get somewhere, or back home again.
Many people may still want to enjoy the freedom of taking their dog out for a walk. Pendant alarms do not typically work outside the range of the home. However an individual’s condition becomes worse an emergency phone such as a Pushphone OK may provide valuable support. This is an emergency phone with GPS for location, Fall monitoring and GEO-fencing.
With the Pushphone OK you can call the number you have stored on the upper two buttons (red and green handset) by pressing the respective button for a longer time. The person who is called can also receive an SMS with the link of the position data.
On the upper right side there is the little red button. This button should be configured for the worst case. The button can be connected to the local ambulance 112.
With the Geofencing (entering a certain radius.) If the person moves out of the given area, a message is sent to the smartphone.)
Tamas and Peter from route4u.org called in last week to tell us about their accessible route finding service. Based on Open Street Maps, Route4u allows users to plan routes that are appropriate to their level and method of mobility. Available on iOS, Android and as a web app at route4u.org/maps, Route4u is the best accessible route planning solution I have seen. Where a service like Mobility Mojo gives detailed accessibility information on destinations (business, public buildings), route4u concentrates more on the journey, making them complementary services. When first setting up the app you will be given the option to select either pram, active wheelchair, electronic wheelchair, handbike or walking (left screenshot below). You can further configure your settings later in the accessibility menu selecting curb heights and maximum slopes etc. (right screenshot below)
Further configure your settings in Accessibility
You are first asked to select your mobility method
This is great but so far nothing really groundbreaking, we have seen services like this before. Forward thinking cities with deep pockets like London and Ontario have had similar accessibility features built into their public transport route planners for the last decade. That is a lot easier to achieve however because you are dealing with a finite number of route options. Where Route4u is breaking new ground is that it facilitates this level of planning throughout an entire city. It does this by using the technology built into smartphones to provide crowdsourced data that constantly updates the maps. If you are using a wheelchair or scooter the sensors on your smartphone can measure the level of vibration experienced on a journey. This data is sent back to route4u who use it to estimate the comfort experienced on that that journey, giving other users access to even more information on which to base their route choice. The user doesn’t have to do anything, they are helping to improve the service by simply using it. Users can also more proactively improve the service by marking obstacles they encounter on their journey. The obstacle can be marked as temporary or permanent. Temporary obstacles like road works or those ubiquitous sandwich boards that litter our pavements will remain on the map helping to inform the accessibility of the route until another user confirms they have been removed and enters that information.
Example of obstacle added by user –
Example of obstacle added by user
If you connect route4u to your FaceBook account you get access to a points based reward system. This allows you compete with friends and have your own league table. In Budapest where they are already well established they have linked with sponsors who allow you cash points in for more tangible rewards like a free breakfast or refreshment. These gamification features should help encourage users less inclined towards altruism to participate and that is key. Route4u when established relies on its users to keep information up to date. This type of service based on crowdsourced data is a proven model, particularly in the route planning sphere. It’s a bit of a catch 22 however as a service needs to be useful first to attract users. It is early days for Route4u in Dublin and Tamas and Peter acknowledge that a lot of work needs to be done before promoting the service here. Over the next few months their team will begin mapping Dublin city centre, this way, when they launch there will be the foundation of an accessible route finding service which people can use, update and build upon. While route4u has obvious benefits for end users with mobility difficulties there is another beneficiary of the kind of data this service will generate. Tamas and Peter were also keen to point out how this information could be used by local authorities to identify where infrastructure improvements are most needed and where investment will yield the most return. In the long run this will help Dublin and her residents tackle the accessibility problem from both sides making it a truly smart solution.
In this podcast, Sarah Boland, together with David Deane and Áine Walsh, talk about the training they hosted on 21st June 2017 on the Mefacilyta Desktop app in St John of God in Stillorgan.
Mefacilyta Desktop is a new Android app developed by Vodafone Foundation Spain in conjunction with St John of God, which can be individually tailored to support people with intellectual disabilities to learn how to carry out their everyday activities independently.
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