Lost Voice Guy – Winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2018

Lost Voice Guy – Winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2018

A few weeks ago, Lee Ridley (a.k.a. Lost Voice Guy) became the first comedian to win Britain’s Got Talent, now in its 12th year. As well as outshining his competitors along the way, and winning with a clear margin, Lee was a favourite with both the judges and the public.

 

What also makes Lee’s win even more incredible is that fact that he is the first person with a disability to win the show. For a stand-up comedian, being able to connect with your audience is essential, and he did this with self-depreciating humour, fantastic delivery and some killer one-liners, all done through the use of Alternative and Augmentative Communication(AAC).

 

AAC provides a means of communication for those whose speech is not sufficient to communicate functionally in all environment and with all partners. Lee uses a combination of two devices to support his communication – an iPad with apps, and a dedicated device called a Lightwriter.

 

Lee has been on the comedy circuit since 2012, and has won prestigious prizes, including the BBC Radio New Comedy Awards in 2014. Below is an interview that Lee participated in, via email, with Karl O’Keeffe back in 2013, which gives some insights into his process and the unique challenges that using a synthesised voice can present.

 

Check out Lee’s other work on his youtube channel (www.youtube.com/user/LostVoiceGuy) – be prepared to laugh your socks off!


 

Karl: You are the first person ever to do stand up comedy who uses a communication device, so you had nobody to learn from. What are the most important techniques and tricks you have learned so far that you wish someone had told you when you were starting?

 

Lee: I think one of the most important techniques that I have learnt is how to deal with timing. Obviously it’s pretty hard to know when to leave pauses for laughter and stuff, especially as I have to pre plan this. I can pause whenever I want but you have to be ready to pause when people laugh otherwise the start of the next bit gets lost or they don’t laugh as long. You sort of have to know when it’s coming so you’re ready for it. Obviously every audience is different so I’m never going to get it right every time.  I think I’m getting better at anticipating when to pause though.

 

Karl: I see from your videos that you use both a LightWriter and an iPad. Can you tell me which it better for stand up comedy?

 

Lee: I use my iPad for my stand up and I use my Lightwriter for day to day conversations. I just find that my iPad is easier to understand slightly. It is also easier to find my material on the iPad and because it backs up to the cloud, it’s a bit more secure and means i can use any Apple device. It’s also a bit sexier than my Lightwriter.

 

Karl: Do you always use the same voice? Why is the voice important in your performance?

 

Lee: I use the same voice mostly yes. However I do use other voices in my act as well for comedy purposes. For example, I use a woman’s voice to do an impression of my mother. I think that my main voice is important to me because it has become ‘my’ voice. It’d be weird if I changed it now.

 

Karl: What app do you use on the iPad for communication?

 

Lee: I use Proloquo2go, which is a brilliant app. It is very complex but easy to use at the same time. It does everything that I need it to do really.

 

Karl: What is your favourite app on the iPad?

 

Lee: I tweet quite a lot so I tend to use Tweetbot all the time. I couldn’t get through long train journeys with the Spotify app either!

 

Karl: Do you use any other Assistive Technology (computer access etc.)?

 

Lee: No. I only use Proloquo2go on my iPad and iPhone and then my Lightwriter.

 

FreedomTech National Assembly

Freedomtech a passport to inclusion

Reminder

Three weeks to go until our first National Assembly !

FreedomTech National Assembly: Making It Happen

This event is for all stakeholders, including service providers committed to developing innovative supports and interested in exploring how technology can help. We will explore the design and delivery of an effective Ecosystem including the Assistive Technology Passport model. This event is inspired by the 2016 discussion paper developed by Enable Ireland and DFI:  ‘Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities and Older People: A Discussion Paper’.

We have an exceptional line-up of local and international speakers including:

  • Hector Minto:         Microsoft’s Accessibility Evangelist
  • David Banes:         International Assistive Technology Consultant
  • Stephen Cluskey: Co-founder, Mobility Mojo and Disability Advocate

The Assembly takes place at 9.00 am on Thursday 16th November 2017 in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin 4.

To book, please see here

#FreedomTech

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