Distraction-free studying!

We all know what it’s like being in school when the sun is shining outside and all you can think about is being out there!  Or when you’re trying to get your homework done and all you can think about is who’s posting what on Snapchat or Instagram?  Or have you ever found yourself managing to get a study block done and then taking a well-deserved 5-minute break to take a peek at social media, only to emerge from your phone a half an hour later and way behind on your study schedule?  Well, the following free apps are for you! In fact, they’re for anyone who wants to use their time on their computer or smartphone more productively, whether you’re a student or not.

 

Stay Focused

Screenshot of Stay Focused web appStay Focused is a free google chrome extension that helps you to stay focused on your work by stopping you from looking at time-wasting websites (e.g. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter).  You set a certain amount of time in the day that you’re allowed to look at those distracting websites and then once your allotted time for the day has been used up, it blocks you out of them.  End of distractions!  You can also choose to have a complete block on the websites that are your major culprits for time-wasting.

 

Leech Block

Screenshot of Leech Block web app

This one works in a similar way to Stay Focused but it’s for the Mozilla Firefox browser instead of Chrome.  You can specify up to six sets of sites to block, with different times and days for each set (e.g. you could have Twitter blocked from 9am to 5pm and Facebook blocked for all but 10 minutes in every hour).

 

Strict Workflow

Screenshot of Strict Workflow web appThis is one of many apps that use the timing principle behind the Pomodoro Technique (i.e. you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, then after four of these sessions you can take a longer break of 15-30mins).  This Google Chrome extension helps you to concentrate on your work by blocking a list of websites for the amount of time you’ve set and once your working period is over, it’ll unblock those sites to give you a break from work before you hit those books again!

 

Offtime

Screenshot of Offtime phone app

Offtime is an app for iOS and Android smartphones that not only lets you block calls, texts and notifications when you’re trying to work, but it can also track your phone and app usage so you can identify what distracts you most.  You can set different profiles, like School, Family and Me Time and when you’re finished your work, it gives you an activity log with a list of everything that happened while you were working so you don’t have to worry about missing out on anything.

So, with these apps you’ll be able to maximise your study time and even better, you’ll be able to look at all your favourite websites and apps guilt-free on your breaks!

Mefacilyta Desktop app

Mefacilyta Desktop

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.Vodafone symbol with person pointing to letter M Mefacilyta app

Boardmaker Online now launched in Ireland

Tobii Dynavox have recently launched their new Boardmaker Online product in Ireland through SafeCare Technologies. It has all the functionalities of previous versions of Boardmaker, except now that it’s web-based you don’t need any disks and multiple users can access it from any PC.

Instructor showing students how to use Boardmaker Online

You can purchase a Personal, Professional or District account and the amount you pay depends on the type of account, the amount of “instructors” and how many years you want to sign up for. You can also get a discount for any old Boardmaker disks that you want to trade in.

You get all the symbols that have been available in past versions, as well as some new symbol sets and any new ones that are created in the future will also be given to you. Because it’s web-based, you have access to previously created activities via the online community and you can upload activities you create yourself to that community and share them with other people in your district or all over the world.

Because it’s no longer tied to one device, you can create activities on your PC and assign them to your “students” who can use them either in school and/or at home. You no longer need to have a user’s device in your possession to update their activities and they don’t need to have a period without their device while you do this.

You (and the other instructors in your district if you have a district licence) can also assign the same activity to many students and by having different accessibility options set up for different students, the activity is automatically accessible for their individual needs. For example, you could create an activity and assign it to a student who uses eye gaze and to a student who uses switches and that activity will show up on their device in the format that’s accessible for them.

Picture shows how instructors can assign Boardmaker Online activities to multiple students

The results of students’ work can be tracked against IEP or educational goals which then helps you decide what activities would be suitable to assign next. You can also track staff and student usage.

One limitation is that you can only create activities on a Windows PC or Mac. You can play activities on an iPad using the free app but not create them on it, and you can’t use Boardmaker Online to either create or play activities on an Android or Windows-based tablet.

The other point to mention is that because it’s a subscription-based product, the payment you have to make is recurring every year rather than being a one-off payment, which may not suit everyone.

However, with the new features it’s definitely worth getting the free 30-day trial and deciding for yourself if you’d like to trade in your old Boardmaker disks for the new online version!

Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities and Older People

Assistive technology for people with disabilities and older people paper

On November 7th last in Dublin, Enable Ireland and the Disability Federation in Ireland launched a Discussion Paper representing the views of a cross-sectoral stakeholder group convened through CHAT (Community Hub for Assistive Technology) which sets out a practical road map to improving the provision of Assistive Technology services and supports to people with disabilities and older people. Further details can be found here:

http://www.enableireland.ie/resources/news/enable-ireland-and-disability-federation-ireland-launch-discussion-paper-future

Currently, far too few people who could benefit from AT, have access to it here in Ireland, but with increasingly accessible mainstream solutions coupled with associated dramatic falls in cost, we believe that the remedy for this gap is more achievable than ever.

This report was published through a partnership between Enable Ireland and DFI, who share a concern regarding the under-resourcing of Assistive Technology nationally. Together, and in partnership with the CHAT community, and any other interested parties, we recognise an urgent need for advocacy and information campaigning in order to increase public awareness and understanding of the potential for AT to enhance quality of life and independence, as well as enhancing government’s awareness of their role in making AT available to those who need it.

Hear more on the launch from our ATandMe Podcast

http://www.atandme.com/?page_id=331

Tap Tap See for iOS

the very cleverly named Tap Tap See is an app (you may have noticed, I like apps a lot!) which allows you to identify objects by simply taking a picture. Once you’ve taken the picture, the app searches through a huge database of objects and brand names to find a match foryour picture.  The app then tells you what it sees.

 

I tend to use it when I need quick information, such as the flavour of a tin of soup or the colour of a piece of clothing, so it’s not an app which can give a lot of detail – but the detail it can give can be remarkably accurate.

 

It does also take a little time to get used to where exactly to point the camera, especially if you’re blind from birth (as I am), but the app is free to use, so yu don’t need to worry about the number of pictures you take.

 

The app also has a handy features which allows you to use it to identify photos in your library, which I really luke if I want to put a photo on Facebook but can’t remember which one I want to use.

 

So, all in all, I’d really recommend having a play with this app.   have fun!

Quadriplegia – Life without Hands – One Man’s Working Solution

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.

One headpointer version

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.Mini cherry 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.

Helpiclick

http://www.helpicare.com/helpiclick/?lang=en

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.

Eugene Callan

 

App Review: Be My Eyes for iPhone

 

So, first of all, I need to nail my colours to the mast here, so to speak: I’m a huge Apple fan. This is mainly because, since 2009, all of Apple’s products have come with built-in screenreading technology, which enables someone who is blind – such as myself – to interact with an iPhone completely independently.

 

In the last seven years, many, many apps have been developed for the specific use of blind users. I use a lot of these, which I might talk about in future posts, but today I’d like to mention one in particular – Be My Eyes:

www.bemyeyes.org

is an app which allows blind people to “borrow” the eyes of a sighted volunteer, through a live video chat system.

 

This app is very simple to use, is free on IOS (an Android version is still in the works), and means that, for me, I’m not always relying on the same people to help me.

 

Its uses are endless – because blind people might have scaled mountains and crossed the South Poll, but we still can’t read the expiry date on a packet of ham without help.

 

Since I discovered Be My Eyes three days ago, I’ve used it for everything from the trivial – making sure my outfit matched when I was going on a night out – to the more important – not mixing up cough syrup with another medicine.

 

For me, as for most people, independence is all about choices: I can struggle for the sake of pride, or I can seek a little help. Be My Eyes allows me to ask for that help without feeling self-conscious or like I’m asking the same people repeatedly.

 

So, whether you’re sighted and fancy a little volunteering , or you have a visual impairment and need to know when your milk is about to go off, then this is a really handy little app.

 

If

you’ve used this app, or have any other app recommendations, it’d be great to hear your thoughts!

 

Note: DO NOT GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION OVER THE APP

The Old with the New

Finger on Braille print
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.

Assistive Technology Webinars

 

webinar graphic

Are you looking for free expert training and advice is assistive technology?

Then consider signing up for a webinar.  There are lots of webinars available within various areas of assistive technology.  Some have a charge, but there are many freely available for anyone to take part in.

A webinar is a live meeting that takes place over the web.  The meeting can be a presentation, discussion, demonstration, or an instructional session.  Participants can view documents and applications via their computers, while join in the discussion by audio or via a live Q&A text area.

Many assistive technology suppliers and organisations are using webinars as a way to share information.  Below are a list of a few online webinars that you can register on or listen to archived sessions.

Inclusive technology

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

The Great Lakes ADA Center’s

http://www.ada-audio.org/Webinar/AccessibleTechnology/Schedule/#fy2015Session6

ATIA Online Professional Development

http://www.atia.org/i4a/member_directory/feResultsListing.cfm?directory_id=8&viewAll=1

Don Johnston Incorporated

http://donjohnston.com/webinars/#.VecAe_lViko

AbleNet University Live Webinars

https://www.ablenetinc.com/resources/live_webinars/

Iowa Assistive Technology Professional Development Network

https://www.education.uiowa.edu/centers/icater/webinars

Assistive Technology in Old Age

Some interesting facts about our population is that we are living longer and our average age is increasing.  From the figures obtained in the Irish 2011 census, it was reported that the population of elderly people, aged 65 or over, increased by 14.4 per cent on the 2006 figures.  Also the number of persons aged 100 or over was recorded as 389; an increase of 100 persons.  This is a general trend that is happening worldwide.  The UN estimates that the global population of people aged 65 years and older will grow from 7.6% in 2010 to 11.7% in 2020 to 16.2% in 2050.

In Ireland for people over 65, service delivery is usually provided by a limited number of local community occupational therapist.  Assistive Technology provision is also oriented towards mobility aids, various low tech aids and in some cases home adaptations to allow for improved access around the home.

However there tends to be little AT service provision with regards to high-tech devices to enable access to entertainment systems, or access to computer technologies.

Most of us use technologies such as laptops, tablets or mobile phones to communicate, pay bills, shop, look up information they have become quite universal tools.  These tools also need to be universally accessible by all, irrespective of age or disability.

In Irish census figures about ½ of people within in the age group 60 – 74 years have never used the internet.  Although thankfully this figure is falling.
http://www.cso.ie/multiquicktables/quickTables.aspx?id=ica05

Many older people have age-related impairments that can affect how they use computer technology, such as declining hearing, vision, motor skills or cognitive skills.
http://www.w3.org/WAI/WAI-AGE/Drafts/slides/overview.html

However, although age may place some limits on people, some people have shown that age does not have to limit their activities. Toni Morrison now in her mid-80s still writes books.  She has won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction and won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Organisations for the older age such as Age action, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Age & Opportunity provide useful information aimed to inspire the older population to reach their full potential as they age, no matter what age.

With the assistance of volunteer tutors, age Action provide a Getting Started programme delivering training on computers, tablets and smartphones to people over the age of 55. The training takes place in small classes groups and runs in libraries, community centres, family resource centres, corporate offices, and housing complexes for older people.

121 Digital     www.121digital.ie
DCU Intergenerational Project     www.facebook.com/DCU.ILP
IRD Duhallow     www.irdduhallow.com
NUIG     http://cki.nuigalway.ie/organisation/view/230

The Citizen Information centre hosts a resource to search for assistive technology products. http://www.assistireland.ie/eng/

 

Assistive Technology examples

To improve or enable access to mobile devices there are various options that can be considered.

The built-in accessibility options within computers and mobile devices

First consider any accessibility options within a devices operating system.  On a windows based computer, the Windows key + U, will start the “Ease of Access Centre” For mobile devices it is located within “Settings”.  This can provide help for people who may have difficulties with either vision, hearing, physical and motor skills or learning and literacy.  For example, text can be enlarged and read aloud, screen contrast can be changed to a high contrast option or films and podcasts can be watch with closed captions.

Alternative keyboards and mice

There are a wide range of alternative keyboards for individuals who find the standard keyboard layout and size difficult to use.  Keyboards come in diverse shapes and sizes and with alternative layouts.  For mice alternative there are trackpads, trackballs or rollerballs, joysticks and ergonomic styled mice that may offer a better alternative.  They can be used for both windows based computers as well as some mobile devices.

http://www.enableireland.ie/products-technology/types-of-at/computers/alternative-mice

http://www.enableireland.ie/products-technology/types-of-at/computers/alternative-keyboards

 

PC software

Eldy

Eldy is Windows baseed software that turns any standard PC into an easy-to-use computer for people that have never used a computer before.  It provides an easy six buttons interface for email, Internet, chat, videoconferencing, documents, pictures, skype and more.

ww.eldy.eu/en

Eldy is software that turns any standard PC into an easy-to-use computer

Envelope

Another similar program to Eldy is ENVELOPE.

http://www.simplicitycomputers.co.uk/

 

Automation software

Alternatively, if you just want to automate a series of actions and create a macro button that you can put on the desktop, or assign to a hot key there are a number of options such as AutoHotKey and AutoIt.  Another alternative is SlickRun, which uses “magic words”, e.g. you can just type MAIL to run your email program of choice.

Apps for mobile devices

There are a number of alternative keyboards that can be used instead of the standard keyboard within mobile devices.  Some alternative keyboards will predict your text and will adapt to the way you type.  The method of using the keyboards can be slightly different and worth a look.

Also for individuals who are not familiar with finding their way in the smartphone environment, app launchers provide a friendly way for people who wish to use a smartphone without the hassle of navigating their way in a complex smartphone environment.

ThickButtons

ThickButtons is an app for mobile devices.  The ThickButtons app enlarges and highlights buttons, which you will most likely press next and shrinks the remaining ones.  It adjusts to your typing habits.

http://www.thickbuttons.com/

ThickButtons app enlarges and highlights buttons, which you will most likely press next and shrinks the remaining ones

Swiftkey

This keyboard is another alternative to the standard keyboards found on phone and tablet devices.   You can type by sliding your finger from letter to letter.  It predicts your text and will adapt to the way you type.

http://swiftkey.com/en/

Swiftkey alternative keyboard

Big Launcher

BIG Launcher is aimed at making the smartphone suitable for seniors, children, and people with motor problems or visual impairments.

http://biglauncher.com/

Big Launcher app

 

Crescendo Launcher

This is a similar idea to the one above, but looks quite different.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.oadigital.launcher free version is supported by advertising. Premium version also available.

Crescendo Launcher app

 

Launcher 8

Launcher 8 is a launcher for Android handsets that allows you to add the appearance and the interface of a Windows Phone to your mobile phone or tablet with Google’s operating system.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lx.launcher8&hl=en

Launcher 8 app

 

Wiser launcher

http://wiser-me.com/

Wiser Launcher app