Creative use of technology during Covid 19 pandemic

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Posted on March 25th 2020 by Siobhan Long

Using technology to support people with disabilities, their families and those who support them during the Covid 19 pandemic

Some initial suggestions

Note: This is an evolving ideas post which we encourage you to contribute to: together we can be creative in how we use technology to support people with disabilities who may be feeling isolated and worried, and we can also consider innovative ways of remote working to benefit all.

This is already a very worrying time for people with disabilities, being constantly reminded that they are in a high-risk group when it comes to Covid 19. With schools and services shut down, how can we use technology to facilitate communication, prevent people feeling isolated and maybe provide some kind of distraction?

Disclaimer: By means of this website, Enable Ireland provides information concerning accessing and using technology. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information provided by this website is reasonably comprehensive, accurate and clear. However, the information provided on or via this website may not necessarily be completely comprehensive or accurate, and, for this reason, it is provided on an “AS IS” and “AS AVAILABLE” basis. Each individual or organisation accessing and relying on the information shared should carry out their own review of the suggestions we make from a legal and regulatory point of view.If you think you may have noticed any error or omission, please let us know by contacting Siobhan Long at: slong@enableireland.ie. It is our policy to correct errors or omissions as soon as any error or omission has been established to our satisfaction.

WhatsApp or Viber Groups

This is something most of us use and find very useful. Disability services could set up a group/groups and use them as a way to keep communication open while people are at home.

WhatsApp is very accessible as it allows people to contribute to a group chat using recorded Video or Audio or text. It’s a good way to share jokes and funny stories and keep morale up. It supports individual and groups (up to 4) video and audio calls.

Advantages

  • Accessible (to many)
  • Familiar

Disadvantages

  • Needs a smartphone, computer or tablet.
  • Only supports groups up to 4 in real-time calls or video
  • Your privacy is not guaranteed using these forums

Echo Dot or Echo Show

For some people, speech is the easiest way for them to access technology. The Amazon Alexa powered devices can be a very intuitive way of getting information, entertainment (music, radio, audiobooks adventure games). They also support a feature called “Drop-in”. When setting up a device you can add friends or contacts who also have Echo devices and allow them to “Drop-in”. This could provide a good means of keeping contact with people who may not be comfortable enough with technology to use a smartphone or WhatsApp. It works basically like an intercom. The person being dropped in on does not have to do anything other than answer, no buttons to press or commands are needed. It’s like talking to them if they were in the room with you. The Echo Show (only £50 on Amazon at the moment) has a screen and camera also. We are not sure if you can Drop-in with video of if you need to use a video calling service. (Maybe someone reading this already knows the answer?)

Advantages

  • Very easy to use natural speech interface.
  • Lots of entertainment options
  • Can open communication channels in a natural way with user input

Disadvantages

  • GDPR/Privacy/Consent considerations are an issue as you may not receive the privacy you expect

Video Conferencing

MICROSOFT TEAMS

Microsoft Teams is a hub for teamwork in Office 365. It is currently free to download and use, during this Covid 19 pandemic. It is most likely to be initially at least, most useful to staff, as there is a degree of learning and familiarization involved: Here’s an introductory video illustrating how Teams works.

SKYPE

Skype should be familiar with being the original voice and video calling service. Perhaps not as popular as it once was it is still used by many people. Once someone is set up and signed in it should be easy enough to navigate. Skype is keyboard accessible, which will allow us to use alternative input methods or create a simplified interface using software like the Grid 3. Unfortunately, Skype no longer supports games like checkers and chess but it is still a good option especially if people are already using it.

ZOOM

Currently free, the video conferencing tool Zoom is a great way of bringing larger groups together via video. It supports all the main platforms (Windows iOS, Android and macOS). It’s quite an easy app to use and is free to install and use for up to 40 minutes. This could be used to bring everyone together at a certain time every day and would be probably the best way of simulating the atmosphere people would be familiar with within the services they normally attend. When hosting a meeting, you can select ‘share screen only’ to ensure that there is no potential for making any changes to attendees’ own devices. Without selecting this feature, it would be possible to remotely access devices, and this is something that would require written/recorded consent.

Note: Corporate IT Departments may have concerns re: this solution as they may not have any prior agreement with them. So for service providers, best to check with their IT and Data Protection officer before considering it.

Advantages

  • Free and relatively easy to use
  • Supports large group video calls
  • Great casting tool

Disadvantages

  • GDPR concerns given your privacy is not guaranteed
  • Requires a computer or mobile device
  • Will be new and unfamiliar to most (all)

FaceBook Groups

Enable Ireland Communications Department have created guidelines for designated staff authorised to start Facebook Groups for the purpose of communicating with clients and their family’s. These guidelines offer some do’s and don’t in regard to moderating these groups and suggest the appropriate privacy settings that need to be applied. You can request a copy of this document from our Communications Department.

communication@enableireland.ie

Set up an Internet Radio Station

There are services that allow you to create an online radio station (for example https://radio.co/). This would be a great way of keeping people in touch with news and entertainment custom made for a specific audience. Rotate DJs between services, have chats, play music, share the news. Bit of a mad idea but could be fun for everyone. If a live radio channel is a bit of a stretch we could maybe produce a daily podcast. Get people to record introduction to songs on their phones and send us the audio. Record thoughts, news, jokes, and we can try to put it all together and send out a link for everyone to listen. Video could also be used and make private links on YouTube.

Advantages

  • Accessible to (almost) all as listeners
  • Offers opportunity to be a producer as well as consumer of news/entertainment
  • All content curated by surface users

Disadvantages

  • Totally new to us, not sure of the requirements for setting it up but happy to hear from others more familiar, and happy to try it out.

Watch Together

YouTube is very popular and supports synchronised watching of YouTube videos and real-time chat.

https://www.watch2gether.com/?lang=en

Online Games

There are lots of games available online that allow you to invite friends to play remotely. Why not curate and manage a range? Suited to Draughts, Battleship, Ludo, Scrabble, Chess although younger players might be more interested in Fortnite

Advantages

  • Many of these games will be familiar to people already
  • Great distraction; Start a league!

Disadvantages

  • Many of the sites that offer these games are funded by advertising and can be difficult to navigate (auto-playing videos, links to products, flashing ads designed to trick people into clicking on them. This is not an insurmountable problem but it would be a good bit of work identifying appropriate platforms. iOS might be better.

Virtual photo walks

This is a lovely idea we came across. The original uses Google Hangouts but any video conferencing app would work.

Books – reading, looking and listening audio books

Story Weaver https://storyweaver.org.in/ is an open platform for the creation and distribution of books aimed at children under 16. Although a lot of the content has been created by and for other cultures & languages with almost 20,000 currently in the catalogue there should be plenty of interest there. The real potential with this site, however, is creating your own richly illustrated books with their easy to use web app.

Audio Books are hugely popular, they are accessible and can be consumed while completing other activities like your daily.  Audible (free for 30 days and linked to Echo/Amazon/Kindle) is the big name with the largest catalogue. 

Bookshare Ireland is available for people with visual or print disabilities. You can also download Audio Books or eBooks from your local library https://www.librariesireland.ie/elibrary/eaudiobooks.

Do you have a nice voice, or rather has anybody else ever told you have a nice voice? If so and you have a good quality microphone why not volunteer for https://librivox.org/. The Librivox project has been creating high-quality audiobooks from all public domain literature for a number of years. There is a huge selection to download and listen to as well as for instructions on how to begin creating your own.


Webinars

AbilityNet

 https://abilitynet.org.uk/free-resources/webinars  have a webinar in conjunction with the UK Stroke Association next week. They are also planning weekly webinars (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) over the next month. https://abilitynet.org.uk/news-blogs/abilitynet-live-free-events-about-technology-and-disability

AHEAD

 https://www.ahead.ie/conference2020  have moved their conference online, with a series of webinars over the next 10 weeks, starting this afternoon and tomorrow. They also have an archive of past webinars https://www.ahead.ie/Digital-Accessibility-Webinar-Series

AbleNet

 https://www.ablenetinc.com/resources/live_webinars have some webinars scheduled over the coming weeks, but also have access to a large bank of recorded webinars at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnqbFTy0VIQ6fVxXY2HiOJw/videos

Perkins Learning

has some prerecorded webinars https://www.perkinselearning.org/videos/webinar/assistive-technology

Call Scotland

also have scheduled and archived webinars available https://www.callscotland.org.uk/professional-learning/webinars/

Pacer

have cancelled a lot of their webinars for April/May https://www.pacer.org/workshops/ but they have an extensive list of archived webinars – https://www.pacer.org/webinars/archive-listing.asp

Shane Hastings Giveback Directory of free products / services available during COVID-19

Education (26)

Business Resources (9)

Health & Wellbeing (17)

Sports (7)

Entertainment (6)

Music (8)

Technology (7)

As mentioned, this is just for starters: if we all think creatively we can harness technology in many ways to support service users and staff through this difficult time. Please contact us with your suggestions and we’ll add them to this document. Thanks!

And check out Enable Ireland’s National Assistive Technology Training Service’s free online content on Assistive Technology for Creative Expression: on enableirelandat.com

Stay safe and well, and please share/respond/add your own suggestions/ideas. We’re all better together:) Or as we say in Ireland, Ní neart go cur le céile

Siobhan, Karl, Juliann, Sean and Shirley: The Enable Ireland AT Team

Technology to help people with dementia maintain independence

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.

Pendant alarm

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.

Pendant alarm for assisted living

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.

Minuet Watch from Tunstall Emergency pendant alarm

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.

It's Done app provides a checklist for life's everyday critical tasks

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.

Pill dispenser

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.

Pill dispensers can be programmed to only release the set number of pills each time, locking away the rest until they’re needed.

Useful apps

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.

key finder for those who occasionally misplaces items such as wallet or keys

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.

There a number of brain trainer sites such as Lumosity and Fit brains.

brain trainer for maintaining cognitive abilities

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.

route planner on a Smart Phone. 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.

Pushphone OK, 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.)

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!

ATEC (Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference) – London June 6th

ATEC written in front of a blue solid circle

This conference may be of interest,  it is aimed at disability professionals involved in post education and the workplace, ATEC is a one-day event that allows you to listen to and meet with experts, solution providers, and other like-minded people.

40 organizations from the world of assistive technology attending and 150 professionals from the workplace and post education.

  • Choose to attend 4 seminars from a range of 16, and gain a CPD certificate for each session attended.
  • Lunchtime speed dating sessions – 3 back-to-back 15-minute presentations.
    Two parallel panel debate sessions covering the themes of Education and the Workplace.
  • Network with disability professionals from post education and the workplace.
  • Two topical keynote speeches.
  • DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) update.

http://www.ateconference.com/

Docking your tablet to make it more accessible

RAM Desktop Docking charger which provides data connectivity

Docking a portable device could have many useful benefits for some users.  Connecting a charger up to a device may be difficult for some individuals because of the size of connectors such as Micro USB or a Lightning connectors.  They can be hard to see and difficult to manipulate to the correct position.  With this docking station all you have to do is to drop the device into the docking station and it starts to charge.  The device is also held at an upright angle eliminating the need to hold the device.

The RAM Desktop Dock Charger with GDS Technology for IntelliSkin not only provides a protective cover for a device but when docked it also provides a data connection while charging.   More USB devices such a speaker system, keyboard and mouse can be connected to make your device more accessible.