Hands free reflective dot trackers

user using a refective dot tracker to control their computer

If you have a physical limitation that makes it difficult or impossible to use a traditional mouse with your hands, a hands-free mouse can be critical to accessing a computer comfortably and efficiently. A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as wearable sensors, eye trackers or even speech recognition.  One other possible group of devices are reflective dot trackers. You wear a small reflective dot (often placed as a sticker on the forehead or glasses), and a special sensor unit mounted on or near your computer tracks the motion of the dot to control the mouse cursor as you move.  There is no wired connection between you and the device.   The wearable reflective dot is smaller and less conspicuous than some of the other wearable sensor options. 

These products can replace a traditional mouse for computing platforms such as Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. And some will work with platforms like Android and Chrome OS as well.

Some reflective dot trackers options to consider are as follows

TrackerPro $995

HeadMouse Nano £888.00

SmartNAV 4:AT €465.00

AccuPoint $1,995.00

The good:  If you are OK with wearing the reflective dot you can independently control a mouse cursor without requiring someone to assist putting on a wearable sensor.  Also less chance in something not working than other hands free options such as eye gaze or voice recognition.

The not so good: does require a line-of-sight to the computer, and can be sensitive to lighting conditions.

The verdict:  If you need or want the ability to make very fine, high-resolution movements of the mouse cursor, similar to what is possible with a traditional mouse, then reflective dot trackers are a good option.

Accessible Photography – Photo Editing with Adobe Lightroom & the Grid 3

Some time back, when I was finishing up a photography shoot, I met a gentleman who had informed me that his photography career had been cut short due to having a stroke a few years earlier. This was back in 2011, and options were a lot more limited in terms of cameras, software and accessibility in general. Earlier in the year, as part of my Foundations in AT course, it was suggested to me to incorporate my photography background into my project. Now in 2019, there are a lot more options for accessibility in photography, between mounts for the cameras, wi-fi connectivity between camera and PC/Phone/Tablet. However taking the photo is only half the work for a photographer.

Film photographers have to develop their photos, Digital photographers have to edit their photos. Adobe Lightroom is an industry standard program for editing photos. It is also very shortcut friendly. As a result, I was able to make it work with Grid 3 to enable basic editing such as converting to black and white, adjusting colour balance, brightness. Contrast and exposure. Cropping and converting an image from Portrait to Landscape and vice versa could also be achieved via the Grid. In the short time I had to create this grid, it can be easily expanded on, adding access to other modules (such as Export, Slideshow, Book, Print, etc) to access other features like Slideshow Templates, Print Setup, Exporting with previous settings or email a photo. While functionality of this grid is minimal, there is plenty of room for expansion.

Download the Lightroom Grid here or directly through the Grid application (search for Adobe or Lightroom).

Below is a demonstration of the Lightroom Grid.

Mouse Access for iPad is here

person using a joystick mouse to control an iPad

Until now, people with significant physical disabilities could only operate an iPad or iPhone by switch control. With AMAneo BTi it is possible for the first time to operate an iPad or iPhone directly with any mouse or assistive mouse including a trackball, joystick, head mouse or thumb mouse, and even a wheelchair joystick.  The AMAneo BTi also has some very useful built-in features such as tremor filter, dwell click and 2 jack plugs for external switches.

Simply connect the AMAneo BTi to your iPad or iPhone via Bluetooth and the pointer will automatically appear on your device’s screen, with no additional App required. This allows the user to navigate around the screen and interact with a mouse to connect with friends, browse the internet, and play games.


For more information about the AMAneo BTi https://csslabs.de/amaneo-bti

Supplier Inclusive Technology.

The good:   operate an iPad or iPhone directly with any mouse or assistive mouse.

The not so good: Can’t connect Bluetooth mouse directly to device.

The verdict: This is a long awaited feature for Apple devices that now give a new user experience for people with significant physical disabilities.

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

Learning Tools – Using technology to support learning and facilitate collaboration in education

Yesterday Microsoft Ireland hosted a half-day workshop for second level students using technology for additional support within education. This workshop came about thanks to Tara O’Shea, Community Affairs Manager at Microsoft and Stephen Howell, Academic Program Manager. Tara has been a huge supporter of Enable Ireland Assistive Technology Service over the last decade and been the driving force behind many of the successful projects we have collaborated on. Stephen would be a very familiar face to anyone involved in that space where technology and education meet, not just in Ireland but internationally.

The goal of the workshop was to introduce some of the collaboration tools available to students using Office365, additional supports available to students with maths or language difficulties and to provide alternative ways to produce and present content. Obviously as Microsoft was hosting there was an emphases on their tools nevertheless Stephen was quite open about how similar features are available on other platforms. We (Enable Ireland AT) pride ourselves on providing independent recommendations; the best solution for the user is the solution they use best. The practice of schools forcing students down any particular route: Microsoft, Google or Apple, is restrictive and cause difficulties if there are specific access or support needs. Microsoft and Google though offer more browser-based tools that mean users are free to use any device. I should also acknowledged that Microsoft have really upped their game in the areas of Education and Accessibility over the last few years.   

Collaboration

Fostering collaboration is a cornerstone of modern education and promotes a vital real world skill (teamwork) that will serve students throughout their lives. The screenshot below from Facebook (Stephanie McKellop) and illustrates a way that tools we may have considered more for remote collaboration, can be used within a classroom or lecture hall.

Facebook screenshot from user
Stephanie McKellop.
I learned today that a group of students used a Google doc to take lecture notes -- they all took notes simultaneously in a collective file.
They would mark places they were confused or couldn't follow the lecturer. other students would see and explain.
at the end of the semester they have a massive document of note, questions and explanations from peers

Although this example uses Google Docs, Microsoft OneNote could also be used in this way. In fact there would be a number of advantages to using OneNote such as the ability to incorporate Ink annotations and drawings, audio & video and adding whiteboard or print text using Office Lens.

When it comes to collaboration, Microsoft Teams is at the centre. Teams is a unified communications platform, basically it’s like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger but with tonnes of additional features. Through Teams you can not only instant message, video/audio call or share desktops but you can also work on shared documents, whiteboards or mind maps. There are also plugins for many third party apps and services, so if you are already collaboration app or service there is probably an integration available. Stephen demonstrated how a tool like Teams could be used in a classroom session by setting up a class team and getting everyone to work on a short Sway presentation (we mentioned Sway in a previous post a couple of years ago, don’t understand why everyone isn’t using it by now). Once everyone had completed their presentation they posted a link to the class message stream and Stephen showed it on the large screen. Okay, this exercise could have been done without Teams but using the service made it so much easier and more importantly everything was recorded for students to revisit in their own time.

Support

We have looked at Microsoft Learning Tools numerous times on this blog over the last few years (read this post is you want to know more about Learning Tools). Thankfully, since its introduction as a plugin for OneNote in 2016 it has gone from strength to strength. Features like Immersive Reader are now standalone apps and have also found their way into many other Office365 apps like Word and Outlook. Some other apps Stephen introduced are listed below with a brief description. They are all free so we encourage you to download and try them yourselves.

Microsoft Math: If you are familiar with the language-learning app Duolingo, this app takes a similar approach to teaching Mathematics. Short challenges with rewards and feedback. Gamifying Maths

Snip & Sketch: Lets you quickly and easily capture content from the web (pictures, text etc), draw and annotate it and share with other apps.

Microsoft WhiteBoard: Provides a blank canvas where you can collaborate with others and share with the class

Microsoft Translator: Useful for translations or transcriptions. Stephen also showed how it can be a great way to practice pronunciation when learning to speak a foreign language.    

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.

Amazon Echo Buttons

Game features

The amazon echo buttons come in packs of two costing around €20, making them very affordable. The echo buttons began as a children’s game console. Alexa can play a wide variety of games including: Amazon Echo Buttons

  • Trivial Pursuit Tap

Alexa asks a question from one of six categories and friends compete to buzz their echo button first and answer the question correctly.

  • Hanagram

Alexa reads a series of clues and the first person to buzz their echo button and solve the puzzle gets a point.

  • Bandit Buttons

This game requires two to four players. Too score a point you must be the first person to tap your button when all buttons turn the same colour. The person with the most taps wins.

  • Squeak in the Night

2-4 mice go on the hunt for any food they can find, however they must keep away from the cat lucy.

These are the apps introduced with the buttons, however there is a much wider variety in the amazon store, many of which are free.

SmartHome features

As well as the fun games available, you can add smarthome features to the echo buttons. Simply click the top left corner of the homepage of the alexa app, out of the options that appear click on routines. Click the plus symbol in the top right corner of routines. Firstly choose “when this happens” then select the echo button. You will be asked to click the echo button you wish to perform the task. Finally click “add action”, followed by smart home. Here there will be multiple functions for the button to perform, for example “turn on lamp”. Once you have selected the function you want, click save and play around with the buttons as much as you want.

The good: Echo buttons are very good value and they allow you to perform household jobs eg, turning on and off the lights with ease.

The not so good: The buttons only allow for one function each, for example if one button has already been programmed to turn on the bedroom light, it cannot be programmed to do anything else.

The verdict: For such a reasonable price, echo buttons can carry out functions that are very beneficial to home owners.

 

XAC (XBOX Adaptive Controller) User Review

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

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

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


XBox Adaptive Controller (XAC)

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

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

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


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

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

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

Forza 5

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

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

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

FIFA 19

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

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

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

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

Ryse, GTA & Battlefield

Ryse cover
Grand Theft Auto cover
Battlefield cover

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Free Smart Home solution: OpenHAB

Screen shot of Openhab UI

OpenHAB is a free and open source solution for the smart home.  In the quickly growing smart home market, the industry has come up with a vast number of standards, protocols and products, for example, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Echo or Google Home. They usually don’t integrate well together as there is hardly any interoperability across vendors.  Also, the only thing they connect to is their respective cloud service, which could mean a typical smart home may depend on many remote servers. The openHAB project has attracted a large developer community, which looks at the smart home from a user perspective: This makes features like offline capability, data privacy and customisability top priorities for a smart home solution.

The good: The openHAB project makes features like offline capability, data privacy and customisability top priorities for a smart home solution.

The not so good: complicated initial setup with a steep learning curve. It presumes a level of technical competence to allow for successful setup.

The verdict: This solution for the smart home has clear benefits over current smart home solutions with regard to reliability, latency (that is, the time it takes for a signal to reach and turn on/off a device) and data privacy.


Further information: https://www.openhab.org/

Factsheets on Dyslexia at Second Level

This weeks post was contributed by Wyn McCormack, co-author of the Factsheets on Dyslexia at Second Level . Wyn has been involved with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland for over 20 years and has designed and presented courses on dyslexia for parents, teachers and students.  She has written extensively on the topic including Lost for Words, a Practical Guide to Dyslexia at Second Level, (3rd Ed.  2006), and Dyslexia, An Irish Perspective (3nd Ed. 2011) as well as being the co-author of the Factsheets on Dyslexia at Second Level in 2013 (updated 2014, 2015, 2016).  She has been a presenter for SESS, the Special Education Support Service.   She is a former Guidance Counsellor and Special Educational Needs teacher.  Her three sons have dyslexia.

*  *  *  *

In 2014 the Dyslexia Association of Ireland asked myself and Mary Ball, an educational psychologist to write the Factsheets on Dyslexia at Second Level to celebrate their 40th anniversary.  The key objective of the Factsheets was to give teachers clear and concise information on dyslexia, how it affects students and how schools and teachers can help. With dyslexia affecting approximately one in ten people, there are many thousands of students with dyslexia in schools.

There are 18 Factsheets.  The majority were intended for teachers and schools and cover topics such as teaching literacy, numeracy, foreign languages, Maths and Assistive Technology.  Factsheet 16 is for parents on how they can help and Factsheet 17 is for students on study strategies.

I update the Factsheets annually in August and they are available for free download at www.dyslexiacourses.ie.  After putting the work into writing them, I really wanted to get them widely used.   In 2014 I had taken early retirement as a Guidance Counsellor and Special Education Teacher.  So I set up Dyslexia Courses Ireland to offer schools, parents and students courses on dyslexia friendly strategies and AT resources.  I was then joined by Deirdre McElroy, a school colleague who had worked as a NEPS educational psychologist.  The courses have been really well received.  Since 2014 we have had just under 3000 teachers, 540 parents and 480 students attend our courses.  We run courses at central venues for teachers and also give presentations to the teaching staff within schools.  At this stage we have been to schools in every county (outside of N. Ireland).  In 2018 in the last week of August which is the first week of the school year, we presented courses in 14 schools.

The course for students is a study skills workshop.  Students with dyslexia may experience difficulties with organisation, reading, memory and learning, note-taking, writing and spelling.  They may find it hard to show what they know in exams due to misreading questions and poorly structured answers.  The workshop covers strategies that help the student to achieve and which also target their specific difficulties.

A key element of the teacher courses is that while we share ideas with the teachers, we ask them to recommend websites, Apps, and strategies that they are using in the classroom.  As a result we have an extensive list of recommended websites.  The teachers generously have allowed us to share these.  We do this by twice a year sending out a newsletter to all schools as well as to those who attended our courses.   The recommendations have grown so much that while we did have one handout called Useful websites/APPS on Keynotes, subject specific resources, study skills, exam preparation, assistive technology and on-line tutorials, we have had to split it into one for teachers and one for students. Both are available under downloads on the website.

While my favourite websites vary over time, some really helpful ones are as follows;

  • alison.com for on-line tutorials in Project Maths at Junior and Leaving Cert.
  • sparknotes.com and, in particular, their short videos of Shakespearian plays and the No Fear guides where the Shakespearian words are on side of the page with a modern English translation on the other.
  • studystack.com with flashcards and games when key facts have to be learnt.

Just in the last month, I was told about www.canva.com and www.spark.adobe.com which allow infographics be created.

The reason I am so involved is that my three sons are dyslexic and I realised much more needed to be done at second level.  As I have travelled with them on their journey through education, I also realised there was a reason why I could never tell left from right and that I also shared some of dyslexic traits.  These experiences have helped me appreciate the difficulties which many students with dyslexia face in school.

I hope the factsheets contribute to greater awareness of dyslexia at second level and all the ways that teachers and schools can support the these students.

Wyn McCormack